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Monday, April 4, 2011
Mr. Kan's crisis leadership
According to a March 26 and 27 Kyodo News poll, the approval rating of the Kan administration rose 8.4 percentage points from mid-February to 28.3 percent, and 57.9 percent of the polled approved of the way his Cabinet deals with the victims of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami.
But Prime Minister Naoto Kan cannot be content with his performance. The poll shows that 63.7 percent think he is not exercising sufficient leadership and that 58.2 percent do not approve of the way the government handles the nuclear crisis at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant.
Some of his behavior after March 11 has cast doubt on his reliability as a leader. For example, on the morning of March 12, he flew to the power plant aboard a helicopter. Mr. Haruki Madarame, head of the Nuclear Safety Commission, who accompanied him, said Mr. Kan went there because "he wanted to learn a bit about nuclear power."
One wonders whether it occurred to Mr. Kan that by being away from the prime minister's headquarters for several hours, he might have delayed timely, important decisions related to the relief of disaster victims and the resolution of the nuclear crisis.
A big problem with Mr. Kan in this crisis is that people cannot clearly see what kinds of instructions he is issuing to help disaster victims, and to lessen or end the nuclear crisis, or what kinds of problems he has detected with the government operations and what kinds of rectification measures he has taken. He should speak more often before the media, explain what he is doing and answer questions.
He should make sure that disaster-hit people get necessary support without fail and that infrastructure, lifelines and temporary housing are in order in devastated areas. He also should present a vision for reconstruction of northeastern Japan. He needs to have bureaucrats provide necessary information and advice, and issue clear instructions to them. He must behave carefully so that he can gain the trust of people, bureaucrats and opposition party members, which is the most important thing during a national crisis.