Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sayonara for Hatoyama

It's 'Sayonara' for Japan's 'Alien' Prime Minister

AOL News

(June 2) -- One was known as the "alien," the other as the "shadow shogun" who wielded real power from behind the scenes.

The abrupt resignations today of the first, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, and the second -- ruling Democratic Party of Japan secretary-general Ichiro Ozawa -- has abruptly shifted the political landscape in the world's second largest economy.

Analysts say the exit of the two men -- both dogged by political funding scandals -- would boost the Democratic Party of Japan's image ahead of elections expected July 11.

And it could revitalize the party's push for reform after Japan's first real political transition since World War II took place in August.

"The twin resignations of Hatoyama and Ozawa may actually provide the DPJ with an opportunity to reclaim the hope that accompanied the party's victory last year," Japanese politics expert Tobias Harris wrote in a commentary on his blog.

The center-left DPJ swept to power last summer on the promise of change, mixing an ambitious pledge to rein in Japan's notoriously powerful bureaucrats with promises of generous social spending on education and child care. The goal was to invest in "people" and not "concrete," the party repeated.

But corruption scandals rapidly hit both Hatoyama and Ozawa, and the government's approval ratings plunged as it proved unable to deliver on key promises.

The biggest of those bounced checks was Hatoyama's pledge to move a key U.S. Marines air station out of Okinawa, as many in the southern island prefecture had long hoped. On May 28, after months of talks with frustrated U.S. officials, Hatoyama was forced to go back on his campaign promise and agree to stick to a 2006 deal with Washington to relocate most of the Marines to another location within Okinawa.

As if that wasn't bad enough, Hatoyama was called "loopy" by The Washington Post and widely slammed for his taste in shirts.

Hatoyama announced his resignation at a meeting with party members early today. Later in the day, according to a translation by the Wall Street Journal, he posted on his Twitter site: "From now on, I want to tweet as a single human being, no longer as the prime minister. Please continue to follow me."

The DPJ is expected to choose a new prime minister on Friday, likely either current finance minister Naoto Kan or foreign minister Katsuya Okada. A new cabinet is expected to be formed the following Monday.

Kan, the odds-on favorite, is a former activist who became famous for wresting evidence of wrongdoing from the bureaucracy as health minister during a scandal over tainted blood in 1996. He's seen as perhaps most true to the DPJ's ambitious social ideals and agenda among the party's top leadership.

In an interview earlier this year, DPJ upper house member Kuniko Tanioka described Kan as a "pioneer," while the outgoing Hatoyama was a "mediator or conciliator" figure and party secretary-general Ozawa a "big boss" type of leader more typical of old-style Japanese machine politics.

Hatoyama's exit will spare the DPJ from an embarrassing showing in July's upper house election, analysts said. "The debacle the party was facing with Hatoyama at the helm is now for party members and supporters a nightmare they managed to avoid," wrote Japan analyst Peter Ennis.

But the DPJ won't likely be able to win an outright majority, forcing them to continue a complex game of coalition politics, said Koji Murata, a political scientist at Doshisha University in Kyoto. "The new prime minister will probably have to deal with a divided government situation, which will be very tough," Murata said. "The DPJ may seek to expand the coalition."

One of the DPJ's former allies, the Social Democratic Party, quit in disgust over Hatoyama's flip-flop on relocating the U.S. Marines' Futenma base.

Murata said he expected Kan would stick to the DPJ's basic direction if tapped as prime minister. "I don't think the DPJ will change drastically," he said. "One good thing is that Mr. Kan was not involved in the Futenma base issue at all, so he has a free hand on this issue."

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