Japan Prime Minister Naoto Kan resists resignation call

Prime Minister Naoto Kan (R) speaks with Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara in parliament on 24 January 2011. Seiji Maehara has been seen as a potential successor to the prime minister

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Japan's Prime Minister Naoto Kan has brushed off calls for his resignation, after the foreign minister stepped down over a funding scandal at the weekend.

Mr Kan told parliament that he intended to fulfil his duties until elections, which must be held by late 2013.

The opposition, which controls the upper house, wants an early poll and is threatening to block budget bills.

The resignation of Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara has added to the impression of a government in disarray.

Some political commentators in Japan are predicting that Naoto Kan's government will collapse sooner rather than later - but it seems he is determined to resist.

"Carrying out the administration's duties for a four-year term and then letting the people decide at the ballot box is best for the people themselves," Mr Kan told a parliamentary session.

Analysis

Japan's politics is getting messy.

The political impasse means little is being done about Japan's big problems.

The public debt is approaching 200% of gross domestic product and coping with the rapidly ageing society is getting more and more expensive.

Prime Minister Naoto Kan has made tax and social services reform a priority, specifically increasing the 5% consumption tax.

But building the kind of consensus needed in Japan for big change will be an almost impossible task when he can't even get agreement on next year's budget.

Bears have been predicting for years that Japan will go the way of Greece, something avoided so far because interest rates on Japan Government Bonds have remained very low.

But the longer the structural problems are not addressed the more the debt burden grows, reducing the room for manoeuvre.

Worst of all no end to the political stalemate is in sight.

"I intend to firmly fulfil my duty until that time comes."

Political deadlock

Even before the funding scandal, Mr Kan was battling to stave off opposition calls for an early general election, says the BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo.

He wants to implement tax reform to cover the costs of Japan's rapidly ageing society and rein in its massive public debt.

But deadlock in parliament means Mr Kan is struggling to pass bills to implement the trillion-dollar budget for the new financial year which begins next month.

Mr Kan is Japan's fifth Prime Minister since 2006. Mr Maehara had been seen as a potential successor to Mr Kan.

But he stepped down on Sunday after just six months in the job.

He had acknowledged accepting political donations from a foreign national - illegal in Japan if done intentionally.

Mr Maehara admitted taking a 50,000 yen ($610) political donation from a South Korean national resident in Japan.

The sum is small but Japanese law bars politicians from accepting money from outsiders to prevent foreign powers having influence on domestic politics.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano will serve as temporary foreign minister until a successor is appointed.

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