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Hatoyama resigns as Japan's prime minister

June 02, 2010
  • Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama enters a room to meet with reporters at his official residence in Tokyo on June 2, 2010. Embattled Hatoyama resigned earlier in the day 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.
Associated Press,

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.

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"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 leadership skills.

"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 have to woo a disenchanted public, disgusted over Hatoyama's indecisiveness and broken promises and also have to carry out the government's promise with the U.S. to build a new base on Okinawa. In Washington, the U.S. State Department had no comment on Hatoyama's resignation.

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 balloting.

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 been postponed.

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.

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