TOKYO (AP) - Embattled Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama
resigned Wednesday to improve his party's chances in an election
next month, after his popularity plunged over his broken campaign
promise to move a U.S. Marine base.
Finance Minister Naoto Kan, who has a clean and defiant image,
emerged as a likely successor. He signaled he intends to run for
leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan at a party
meeting to be held Friday.
Sweeping into office just eight months ago by defeating the
long-ruling conservatives, Hatoyama captured the imagination of
many Japanese voters with his promises to bring change and
transparency to government, as the country grappled with economic
stagnation and an aging, shrinking population.
So when he failed to deliver on his pledge to move the Marine
Air Station Futenma off the southern island of Okinawa and his
staff got ensnared in a political funding scandal, his approval
ratings rapidly sank, falling below 20 percent.
"He could not live up to the huge expectations," said Tetsuro
Kato, professor of politics at Hitotsubashi University in Tokyo.
"He just proved himself to be a rich kid without experience and
"The expectations were so great, the disappointment was also
great," he added.
Hatoyama, a professor-like millionaire with a Ph.D in
engineering from Stanford University, is the fourth Japanese prime
minister to resign in four years. Viewed as somewhat aloof and
eccentric by the Japanese public, he earned the nickname "alien."
"Since last year's elections, I tried to change politics in
which the people of Japan would be the main actors," Hatoyama told
a news conference broadcast nationwide. But he conceded his efforts
fell short and people stopped listening to him.
"That's mainly because of my failings," he said.
In recent days, he faced growing calls from within his own party
to quit or imperil its chances in upper house elections likely to
be held sometime in July. Hatoyama, the grandson of a prime
minister, acknowledged in a news conference broadcast nationwide
that he had disappointed the country with his handling of the
Futenma issue, as well as the funding scandal.
The DPJ's powerful No. 2, Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa - seen
by many as a "shadow shogun" - also resigned.
The party will meet Friday to choose a new chief, who will
almost certainly become the next prime minister because the
Democratic Party of Japan controls a majority in the more powerful
lower house of parliament.
Analysts say the new prime minister faces an enormously
challenging and unenviable job of steering his party through an
extremely difficult election and minimizing the damage.
The leader would also have to carry out the government's promise
with the U.S. to build a new base on Okinawa, and woo a
disenchanted public, disgusted over Hatoyama's indecisiveness and
The new leader may not even last long - in case he needs to
resign to take responsibility for the DPJ's poor showing in the
Among the strong contenders as Hatoyama's replacement is Kan,
63, a former health minister, who has been popular with voters
after exposing a government cover-up of HIV-tainted blood products
that caused thousands of hemophilia patients to contract the virus
that causes AIDS. He has a reputation for speaking his mind and
sometimes being hot-tempered.
Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada, seen as mild and levelheaded, is
another possible candidate. But his involvement in discussions over
the Futenma base issue might be viewed as a negative by voters.
The slick-haired, soft-spoken Hatoyama, who grew up in a
well-to-do family of politicians, may have grown too out of touch
with everyday people and their economic hardships.
"I was very disappointed," said Masahiro Ueda, 38, who works
for a software company, of Hatoyama's failure to deliver. "I
thought he could change things, but in the end the issue just went
back to square one."
Besides Futenma, Hatoyama reneged on other promises such as cash
payments for children to reverse an aging society, halving the
money from the initial proposal, and toll-free highways, which have
Japanese politics tend to be unpredictable, and it is still
unclear who will be picked in the jockeying of power among blocs of
lawmakers in the Democratic Party. The pick will be Japan's next
prime minister, because the Democrats have the majority in the
lower house that chooses this nation's chief.
Hatoyama's coalition was dealt a blow over the weekend when the
Social Democrats, a junior partner in the coalition, withdrew from
the government after Hatoyama dismissed the party's leader, Mizuho
Fukushima, from his Cabinet because she could not accept his
decision on Futenma.
Half the seats in the 242-member upper house will be up for
election. The DPJ and its Peoples New Party coalition partner
together have 122 seats, with 56 up for grabs in July.
The DPJ and its partner can lose a majority in the chamber and
still remain in power because they control the more powerful lower
house. But it will make it more difficult for them to pass key
The once-powerful LDP remains in disarray after its crushing
defeat last year, but recent polls show some voters may be swinging
back toward the party.
Japanese media reports have also listed Transport Minister Seiji
Maehara and Reform Minister Yoshito Sengoku as other possible
Hiroshi Kawahara, political science professor at Waseda
University, said Kan may emerge the safe choice because of his
clean image - although he is probably unable to save the party from
defeat in July's elections.
"Public disappointment is now so deep that Kan alone cannot
restore voters' confidence," he said.
Hideto Sakaoka, a 54-year-old company employee, says he isn't
voting for the DPJ again.
"We cannot let Hatoyama lead Japan," he said. "His words and
actions always kept changing, and I don't trust him anymore."