TOKYO -- Prime Minister Naoto Kan defeated a no-confidence motion yesterday over his handling of Japan's triple disasters, but the victory may be short-lived -- he said he is willing to resign once the country's recovery takes hold.
Buying himself some time and warding off a challenge that threatened to split his party and send Japan's government into a deeper morass, Kan won a 293-152 vote in the 480-seat lower house of parliament.
Kan, in office just one year, had been criticized for not responding swiftly enough to the crisis caused by the March 11 earthquake and tsunami that left more than 24,000 people dead or missing. The tsunami also crippled a nuclear power plant northeast of Tokyo, setting off radiation leaks and the evacuation of tens of thousands of people.
The disaster, believed to be the costliest in history, has been a huge drain on Japan's long-stagnant economy. The head of the nuclear plant's operator already has resigned in disgrace, largely over criticism the utility did not adequately prepare for a large tsunami.
Before yesterday's parliamentary session, Kan urged lawmakers to let him stay and push ahead with measures to bring the country through the crisis but, in a nod to his many critics, he acknowledged "shortcomings" and said he would consider stepping down after the recovery firms up.
"Once the post-quake reconstruction efforts are settled, I will pass on my responsibility to younger generations," he said. "The nuclear crisis is ongoing, and I will make my utmost efforts to end the crisis and move forward with post-quake reconstruction works."
Kan has been criticized for delays in the construction of temporary housing and a lack of transparency about evacuation information in the nuclear crisis. His government is also embroiled in a debate about compensation for victims.
The government has said the cost of the earthquake and tsunami could reach $309 billion.