Japan's Hatoyama resigns, dogged by Okinawa base dispute
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Wednesday he would resign after coming under fire for weak leadership and reneging on a promise to move a US military base off Okinawa island.
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Mr. Kan, who could face a challenge from the transport minister, Seiji Maehara, is regarded as an independent thinker. “His position is more forceful and clearer than his rivals, and he may be able to move things in a different direction,” says Koichi Nakano, a professor of political science at Sophia University in Tokyo.Skip to next paragraph
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At the very least, Kan is expected to launch a debate on a hitherto taboo policy option: raising the consumption (sales) tax from its current 5 percent to pay for rising welfare costs.
The DPJ is hoping that a quick handover will give it time to shore up support ahead of upper house elections in July. Although it has a comfortable majority in the lower house, expected losses next month will force it to approach smaller parties so it can retain control of both chambers and pass key legislation.
Hatoyama's resignation came as the government was preparing to announce a midterm plan to rein in Japan's huge public debt – now approaching 200 percent of GDP – and encourage economic growth.
Mr. Nakano says that Kan, a fiscal conservative who was not directly involved in the Futenma decision, offers the best hope of making a clean break with the past, and may even manage to coax the DPJ’s former coalition partner, the left-wing Social Democratic Party (SDP), back into the fold.
US base controversy persists
But, he adds, “difficulties over the base issue will continue because of strong local opposition. The US didn’t want to lose face over Futenma, but it may turn out to be a Pyrrhic victory. Futenma is not going to go away.”
Japan’s three-party coalition began to unravel over the weekend when the SDP withdrew in opposition to the relocation plan.
Tobias Harris, a US-based Japan politics specialist, says the US had “got its wish” with Hatoyama’s resignation.
The next prime minister, he wrote on his blog, Observing Japan, “will have to work immediately on fixing the DPJ's standing with the public, starting with yet another attempt to fix Futenma in a way that satisfies Okinawans and the general public.
“The US, meanwhile, would be wise to give the new prime minister plenty of space this time around.”
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