Tokyo: Japan`s centre-left prime minister, struggling with the quake, tsunami and nuclear disaster recovery and a flagging economy, had a no-confidence motion tabled against him by his opponents Wednesday.
Three junior ministers and two parliamentary secretaries from Naoto Kan`s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) resigned late Wednesday, a sign that they would vote for the motion in the Diet legislature on Thursday, local media said.
Kan`s key rival inside the DPJ, scandal-tainted veteran Ichiro Ozawa, said he would support the move against the prime minister, as did members of his faction and former premier Yukio Hatoyama, Kyodo news reported.
"Our wish will fully be supported by the Diet," it quoted Ozawa as saying.
The DPJ has a majority in the parliament but if Kan`s enemies succeed, he will have to resign or call fresh elections.
If they fail, a rebellion during the vote on Thursday will nonetheless again highlight the deep divisions plaguing the ruling party of Kan, who took power less than a year ago as Japan`s fifth prime minister in as many years.
The no-confidence motion was submitted by the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), their smaller ally the New Komeito party and the Sunrise Party, and is expected to be backed by the Communist Party.
The opposition LDP -- which was ousted by Kan`s DPJ in 2009 after more than half a century of almost unbroken rule -- has accused Kan of mishandling quake reconstruction and relief, and the Fukushima nuclear crisis.
LDP leader Sadakazu Tanigaki told Kan in a heated exchange in the Diet earlier Wednesday: "You have no personal virtues or ability to unite your own party members. I`m telling you to quit. Once you leave, there will be many ways for us to unite, to revitalise Japan beyond party lines."
Kan said he had no intention of stepping down.
"Now we have to meet our responsibilities, beyond the divisions of the ruling and opposition parties, to get disaster areas on the track to recovery and stabilise the nuclear plant," the premier said.
Ozawa, who last year challenged him for the party leadership, has Iwate, one of the prefectures worst hit by the March 11 quake and tsunami, as his political base.
Local newspapers have speculated that some 50 lawmakers could join a revolt by Ozawa -- short of the more than 80 that would be needed to win a majority in the 480-seat lower house of the Diet.
Given that the small Social Democrats have expressed no intention of voting against Kan, and that four independents are close to Kan`s DPJ, the LDP would need the support of 81 ruling party members to bring down the premier.
The bickering amid Japan`s worst post-war crisis has irked many Japanese.
"Those in the disaster area must be disappointed and angry at these politicians playing out this cheap war," said Hidekazu Kawai, political professor emeritus at Gakushuin University.
He said that, given the policy differences between Ozawa`s faction and the LDP, a party from which he defected years ago, "it would be nothing but unscrupulous for them to join hands just to oust Kan".
The Asahi daily in an editorial said "these parliamentary manoeuvres are a joke and sickening" and that parliamentarians "must focus on implementing policies instead of using their political energy for these political games".
Tetsuro Kato, politics professor at Waseda University, said the internal party threat against Kan "is merely a performance by some rebels in the DPJ".
"There certainly are some problems with Kan`s ability to handle the disaster damage and the nuclear crisis, including how to disclose data and so on," he said. "But the DPJ rebels have offered no proposals on what they would do to handle this big national crisis after replacing Kan."