Japan's post-tsunami politics
Political co-operation, hard before the earthquake and tsunami, has got harder
AS JAPAN copes with its worst crisis since the second world war, the prime minister, Naoto Kan, is calling for a new politics. In particular, he wants collaboration with opposition parties mostly bent on ousting him. “Many ways of doing things in this country have come to the end of the road,” he said on April 11th. “To rebuild this country, we need a new mindset. I hope for—and expect—a new direction.”
He seems unlikely to get it. The quake and tsunami that devastated north-eastern Japan, and the nuclear disaster that followed, have disrupted the economy, with power shortages and stricken factories. Ordinary Japanese have cut back on inessential spending, in a mood of sacrificial restraint. Much has changed. Yet one constant remains: petty political bickering.
As the government has attempted to deal with the mess, the opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has picked on minor gaffes to justify exaggerated displays of outrage. Mr Kan’s offer to the LDP’s leader, Sadakazu Tanigaki, to form a “grand coalition” with his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) was rebuffed. The opposition thinks Mr Kan is flailing and his prime ministership, which was in trouble well before the earthquake, is in danger.
In opinion polls, Mr Kan’s personal support has increased slightly since then, but around two-thirds of voters are disappointed with the government’s handling of the crisis, particularly at the Fukushima nuclear plant. On April 12th the nuclear accident there was upgraded to level seven, the highest rating on an international scale of severity. That places it on a par with the Chernobyl disaster 25 years ago this month (though the radiation released at Fukushima is only a tenth of Chernobyl’s, and nobody has died from it yet).