News Analysis: Hatoyama, Latest out of Japan's "Revolving Door" for PMs
    2010-06-03 00:15:15     Xinhua      Web Editor: Jiang Aitao

Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama told the nation on Wednesday he would no longer serve as the nation's leader as pressure mounted within his own party for him to step down ahead of key upper house elections this July.

After just eight months Hatoyama went into office, plunging approval ratings caused by his bungled handling of a plan to relocate a U.S. marine base in Okinawa and political funding scandals involving both him and his deputy, Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa -- himself to leave the ruling DPJ imminently -- left the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) little choice but to find a new leader as the public and his peers had clearly lost faith in him.

In many ways, Hatoyama's decision to step down was both inevitable and, considering the mounting pressure against him to do so from his own senior officials and lawmakers, unavoidable.

Hatoyama quit at a meeting of DPJ leaders, becoming the fourth straight Japanese leader to leave after a year or less in office. He left his post to rousing applause from his contemporaries.

A tearful Hatoyama in a national address admitted his shortcomings but concluded that his efforts as the nation's leader were largely misunderstood.

"Since last year's elections, I tried to change politics in which the people of Japan would be the main characters," he told a news conference broadcast nationwide.

"That's mainly because of my failings," he said, referring to the public not understanding him.

Hatoyama said he has asked his Secretary-General Ichiro Ozawa to resign from the party's No. 2 post "for the sake of establishing a new and cleaner Democratic Party of Japan," and that Ozawa has agreed to do so.

The DPJ will pick Hatoyama's successor ON Friday, party members said and many political insiders believe Finance Minister Naoto Kan, who is also deputy prime minister, will succeed Hatoyama as prime minister.

Hatoyama's DPJ brought an end to almost 50 years of unbroken Liberal Democratic Party rule in Japan in an historic election victory for the party, and the nation had high hopes that the new ruling coalition led by Hatoyama would effect the changes they had promised to the electorate to secure their votes.

However, it did not take long for cracks to begin to appear in the newly elected DPJ, with many political commentators quick to jump on the fact that the ruling party collectively had very little political experience and as news of funding scandals involving both the prime minister and Ozawa came to light, the nails in Hatoyama's coffin began to be hammered in one-by-one.

The final nail in his coffin and the one Hatoyama will be remembered for is his decision to side with the U.S. on a deal to relocate an unpopular U.S. marine base from a crowded area in Okinawa Prefecture to a coastal location on the island, despite repeatedly pledging to move the base "at least" outside Okinawa, which hosts 75 percent of U.S. forces in Japan.

"I sincerely hope people will understand the agonizing choice I had to make," Hatoyama said Wednesday with his eyes clearly welling up.

"Because of the Futenma issue, I lost trust of my people. I have been and will continue to make efforts to move the U.S. military facility out of Okinawa."

"I don't believe in the next 50 or 100 years Japan will still rely on the United States for defense...although the Japan-U.S. alliance is important for the time being," he said.

"I knew we had to maintain a trusting relationship with the U.S. at any cost, while seeking cooperation with my domestic political partners. I think I have to take responsibility for the fracturing of the political coalition that resulted from the deal with Washington."

This deal with Washington was a complete turnaround on his election promise to move the base off Okinawa and eventually led to the Social Democratic Party (SDP) quitting the Hatoyama-led tripartite coalition and actively positioning themselves to oppose the DPJ in upper house elections expected on July 11, in which the DPJ must secure a majority to consolidate their power and pass bills smoothly. In addition, two of the SDP's ministers left Hatoyama's Cabinet, one forcibly, the other of her own volition.

Following Friday's announcement of a new pact made with the U.S. regarding the marine base's relocation to a coastal area within Okinawa and the subsequent departure of the SDP from the ruling bloc, prominent dailies on Monday reported support rate for the beleaguered prime minister had hit all time lows with one newspaper poll reporting support rate stood at just 17 percent.

Japan's largest newspaper, the Yomiuri Shinbun, citing its own survey conducted, said Tuesday nine out of 43 upper house lawmakers from Hatoyama's party seeking re-election in July said Hatoyama's resignation ahead of the poll was unavoidable, while 13 others urged him to make his own decision.

"It's something that seems to happen so often in Japanese politics," Dr. David McLellan, a senior professor of Asian Studies at Waseda University told Xinhua exclusively.

People at the top, like Hatoyama, think they can achieve change, forgetting there are sometimes other forces greater than you at work, like the U.S., who have their own ideas. The public really needs to get a balanced picture, particularly regarding a situation as sensitive as Futenma, not a lofty and untenable aspiration about an individual's hopes for change. When Washington makes their mind up on something, as they did here in 2006, they were never going to back down and everyone could see that, except a novice politician, McLellan said.

Hatoyama's resignation now sets the stage in Tokyo for a move back to a more traditional relationship with the U.S., which will be a great relief to the U.S. administration which has had to deal with months of Hatoyama's dithering, dilly-dallying and flip- flopping over the Futenma issue, only to side with Washington in the end.

Sources familiar with the matter said that U.S. officials had been predicting the premier's departure for several weeks, although some thought it would happen after, not before, the planned vote in July.

According to the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday, "U.S. officials tried numerous tactics with Hatoyama's young administration -- recognizing that, after 50 years of almost one- party rule in Japan, it would need time to learn the ropes of government."

"Finally, (U.S. President Barack) Obama lost patience with him and, during the Nuclear Security Summit in April, he challenged Hatoyama's trustworthiness directly in a brief tete-a-tete that left the Japanese leader in shock," the editorial said.

Ozawa, once the DPJ's president until a previous funding scandal forced him to step down, would have been a valuable asset in the up coming elections just weeks away, but as one minister was quoted as saying recently, "The DPJ book needs a new cover."

Seiji Maehara, minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, said recently he wanted Hatoyama to continue as prime minister, but he also said the chief cause of the Cabinet's plunging public support is the "top two'," -- referring to Hatoyama and Ozawa.

"The question of the prime minister's leadership, which is symbolized by the Futenma issue, coupled with the question of politics and money involving the top two are greatly responsible for the drop in public support for the Cabinet," Maehara said.

The Times Online in an editorial on Wednesday suggested that the former prime minister's problems are actually entwined with Japan's fiscal situation and the government's inability to rein- in the worst national debt in the developed world.

"Political analysts believe that Mr. Hatoyama's political weakness pre-dates the debacle over Okinawa. More critical than the U.S. base issue is the question of Japan's fiscal position and the astronomical level of public debt the DPJ inherited," said the Times.

"Japanese voters assumed that the newly-elected DPJ would quickly begin the difficult work of reining-in public spending, but the reality was the formulation of Japan's largest budget ever."

McLellan also points to a bigger picture when talking about Hatoyama's demise and the fact that a certain amount of scapegoating may have been going on as the DPJ scrambles to pull itself together in time for the upper house elections.

"Basically someone has to take the blame, although it's not entirely Hatoyama's fault. In fact the Okinawa debate predated Hatoyama's prime ministerial term," McLellan told Xinhua.

"I feel he was probably pushed out, although you have to question his leadership abilities and experience. On the world stage Japan's "revolving door" for prime ministers looks ridiculous," said the Waseda University professor.

Hatoyama, 63, soft-spoken and with an academic bent, hails from a powerful political and business clan sometimes dubbed "Japan's Kennedys". One of his grandfathers was a prime minister, another founded tire maker Bridgestone.

Before entering politics, Hatoyama in the 1970s received a PhD in engineering in a field called operations research, which employs applied mathematics to solve complex problems, at Stanford University.

He followed his father and grandfather into politics, taking an electoral seat on the northern island of Hokkaido in 1986 with the conservative Liberal Democratic Party.

He left the party and co-founded the Democratic Party more than a decade ago, taking the top post in 1999. He slipped down party ranks only to take the leadership again last year.


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