ROBERT SIEGEL, Host:
You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. The U.S. isn't the only country experiencing a severe bout of political gridlock. In Japan, the country's unpopular prime minister has been squabbling with parliament over a number of issues, and his days appear to be numbered. Lucy Craft reports on the current stalemate and what it means for the Japanese people.
SADAKAZU TANIGAKI: (Japanese spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF CHEERING)
LUCY CRAFT: It's a common refrain in the halls of Japan's parliament in recent months; opposition leader Sadakazu Tanigaki hurling insults at the prime minister. Why don't you quit, he taunts. Prime Minister Naoto Kan, Japan's much unloved leader, was widely expected to be forced out last spring, but his teetering tenure was prolonged by the March earthquake and tsunami disaster known here as 3/11.
GERALD CURTIS: It's very hard to get rid of a prime minister who doesn't want to go.
CRAFT: Columbia University professor Gerald Curtis, an expert on Japanese politics, notes Kan has managed to cling to his job despite unusual vitriol from not only the other side of the aisle but even from members of his own Democratic Party.
CURTIS: I've known him for a long time, and my impression of Kan is that now he's somewhat lost touch with reality. And he thinks that somehow by keeping on going, opinion will turn around and will support him.
CRAFT: The alternative universe that the increasingly isolated prime minister seems to inhabit was on full view recently when the prime minister dropped remarks that astonished this normally reticent and circumspect country.
NAOTO KAN: (Through Translator) Lots of people in parliament say they're sick of seeing my face. You really don't want to see my face anymore? You really don't? If you don't want to see my face, then hurry up and pass my bills.
CRAFT: The gridlock in Tokyo may have preserved Kan's regime for a few months longer, but the political squabbling has been catastrophic for victims of 3/11, slowing down disbursement of the tens of billions of dollars to northeast Japan and making it impossible for the country to make decisions on pressing issues ranging from how to shift away from nuclear power, to tax reform, to free trade, says Sophia University's Koichi Nakano.
KOICHI NAKANO: The effect is very debilitating. Even before the earthquake, tsunami and the nuclear power accident, Japan had mountains of problems. And yet, even after the worst disaster since the end of the Second World War, the politicians did not rise to the occasion. They continued on petty political bickering and refused to offer alternatives to the Kan government that they so bitterly criticized.
CRAFT: Kan is expected to finally bow to the inevitable and step down sometime in the coming weeks. What comes next, say analysts like Waseda University's Tetsuro Kato, could be even worse than the current gridlock.
TETSURO KATO: (Through Translator) We know Kan is a bad leader. We don't know anyone else who can do better.
CRAFT: Japan is still a country in search of a leader and a vision for its future. The leadership vacuum is a legacy of over a half century under a single party, the conservatives. The rocky transition to a real two-party system, analysts say, will likely take years. And until that happens, Japan will be faced with leadership much like the short reign of Naoto Kan. For NPR News, this is Lucy Craft in Tokyo.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.