Japan's political games anger struggling survivors

As Japan's political elite readies for yet another leadership showdown, there is widespread anger about the Tokyo power games among survivors of the March 11 quake and tsunami disaster.

Almost six months after the catastrophe, tens of thousands of people still live in crowded shelters and temporary homes, many mourning loved ones, fearful of radiation and without jobs, homes or a clear idea about their future.

The Government's disaster response has drawn fierce criticism, forcing Prime Minister Naoto Kan to announce he will quit and setting off frantic jockeying among those eager to replace him at the vote to be held by the ruling party today.

"I'm disgusted with things over there," said 60-year-old Ikuko Takita, who lives in a temporary home because the massive ocean wave took away her house in Ofunato, 420km northeast of Tokyo.

"I feel like I'm watching events in another country."

Two years after the centre-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) wrested power from the long-ruling conservatives promising a new style of people-first politics, she said: "I'm losing my hopes for the DPJ. It looks like nothing will change, whoever becomes the next prime minister."

The winner of today's party ballot will become Japan's sixth prime minister in five years, continuing a revolving-door leadership tradition where tearful resignations after about 12 months have become the rule.

In Japan's devastated northeast, many are crying out for a government that will take charge and change their lives for the better.

Much of the tsunami rubble has been cleared, leaving vast empty mud fields, and fishing boats have again set out from hurriedly repaired ports to bring in the season's first catches of tuna and other fish.

But full recovery is expected to take years, and a glum mood has settled over towns where the displaced, their homes gone, endure quake aftershocks and are left worrying about the ongoing radiation crisis.

"I feel like I'm still standing in the dark," said Akio Ikuhashi, 61, who was forced to flee to Aizu in western Fukushima because his house was located only 3km from the crippled nuclear plant.

"I didn't do anything wrong, but I lost everything," said Ikuhashi, who was made unemployed after the disaster and has since separated from his wife after the post-disaster stress took its toll on their marriage.

"What will happen after Prime Minister Kan resigns?" he asked rhetorically. "Whatever happens will happen."

Shinji Sakuma, a Fukushima dairy farmer whose cows had to be slaughtered because of radioactive contamination fears, was furious about the politicians he sees as distant and disconnected from the reality of the disaster zone.

"No way! Is this really the time for them to change the leadership without hearing from us?" said the 61-year-old.

"I don't care about who will be the next prime minister. Whoever it will be, please bring an end to the nuclear crisis and let us go home as soon as possible. That's everybody's view around here."


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