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Prime Minister announces resignation; Ozawa steps down also

Date Posted: 2010-06-02

It took eight months to go from a man praised for promising a new beginning for Japan to one unable to appease anyone.

He may have thought the stress level would drop after making the monumental decision on dealing with the Futenma issue last Friday, but the cries demanding he resign as Prime Minister were almost deafening for Yukio Hatoyama.

Wednesday morning, Yukio Hatoyama bowed to the inevitable, met with senior Democratic Party of Japan officials, and said he would resign. The Prime Minister promised to work with party officials in the week ahead to create a smooth transition and to keep the government solid. That may be much easier said than done.

DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa also resigns from his post, according to party officials.

Speaking on a nationwide television broadcast, Hatoyama said he was stepping down because of his decision on moving Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan City to northern Okinawa, a decision that broke his campaign promise to get the unpopular base off the island. The Futenma fiasco topped the list of miscues that left his public image tarnished as an indecisive leader. The formal announcement of his resignation will come before a gathering of Democratic Party of Japan lawmakers.

His early morning comment during a televised news conference was in response to a reporter’s question about his future. “I will talk about my feelings at today’s meeting with DPJ lawmakers in both houses of the Diet,” he responded. He added “no conclusion was reached” about his future during talks with the DPJ’s upper house caucus leader, Azuma Koshiishi and DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa. He said each of the three men “talked about his own ideas.

Upper House elections are less than two months ahead, and issues such as the economy, having to give up on plans to dump a provisional gas tax, and trying to deal with his promise of making expressways toll-free this month were enough to sink Hatoyama, whose popularity has plummeted. Hatoyama had been saying the past few days he would do “what’s best for the people of Japan”, adding that “the important thing is the livelihoods of the people.”

Hatoyama has met with the Democratic Party of Japan’s secretary-general, Ichiro Ozawa, to plan strategy on the party’s future before July Diet Upper House elections. Calls for his resignation began within his own party, and extended outward to the opposition Liberal Democratic party, and out to the general public. In Okinawa, where citizens view Hatoyama’s decision to adopt the 2006 plan approved by Japan and the United States moving Futenma to northern Okinawa, the perception has been one of anger and betrayal.

With his cabinet’s rating falling to 17%--down from a post-election high of more than 70% less than a year ago—Hatoyama had scrambled to counter criticism he’s a weak leader. Many in his DPJ were seeing him as a liability, with many members expressing doubts about Hatoyama, who’s lost popularity quickly. A DPJ veteran, Kozo Watanabe, says “He’s a good man, but lacks reliability”. Watanabe also said “I know I have to support him because he said he will continue serving as prime minister, but I hope he will make up his mind for the sake of the future of the country and its people.” Watanabe, now in his 14th term as a Lower House member, now says the DPJ leadership should be sacked if the ruling coalition fails to secure a majority in the Upper House election July 11th.

Hatoyama’s lack of experience and flexibility were tagged as reasons he struggled. “Hatoyama feared being labeled a liar, and attempted to materialize every detail in the DPJ manifesto,” says Sophia University Professor Koichi Nakano. More damaging than the Futenma decision itself was the lack of planning, setting the May deadline, and staying tenacious with his plan despite having no solid ideas on how to carry it out.

Hatoyama is the fifth prime minister in recent years to last only a year or less in office. Before that, Junichiro Koizumi lasted five years. Compounding Hatoyama’s worries were new opinion polls that showed the opposition Liberal Democratic Party--which fell from power after five decades last year to the DPJ—now has more supporters than does the Democratic Party of Japan.

The July Upper House election is expected to be squeaky close, with many close races between LDP and DPJ-backed candidates. DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa has been coordinating election strategies, which has become more complex as the party’s popularity has plunged in recent weeks. The SDP’s withdrawal from the three-party coalition will also require adjustments to election strategies in the last weeks before the July 11th election. The DJP is reportedly looking to Your Party and New Komeito as possible allies to permit its holding a majority in the coalition government.

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