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Published:June 1st, 2010 08:24 EST
Japanese Coalition Shatters; PM Hatoyama Nears End?

Japanese Coalition Shatters; PM Hatoyama Nears End?

By Geoff Dean


The amazing thing about the Hatoyama Administration is that every time I think things have hit rock bottom for them, I find that I am wrong. There is always a "lower low" to go to.

 As the dust settles from Prime Minister Hatoyama`s failure to deliver a satisfactory response to the Futenma relocation issue and his failure to keep countless promises to "move the base out of Okinawa prefecture, at the very least" with a decision to that effect being reached "by the end of May" at the "risk of his (political) life", his governing coalition has crumbled.

 The Social Democratic Party, a minor coalition member made up of the remnants of the now defunct Socialist Party of Japan, refused to sign on to the policy of keeping US Marine Corps Base Futenma in Okinawa and building the new facility in the "environmentally sensitive" coral reef area of Henoko Bay. As a result, Consumer Affairs Minister, Mizuho Fukushima, the party leader, was sacked. She wasted no time in announcing that a) her party was leaving the coalition, b)it would support a no confidence vote against the PM, and c) her party`s policies had not changed from day one; it was Hatoyama`s Democrats who had shifted. She immediately became something of a minor heroine in the Japanese political world and the Social Democrats got a boost in their polling numbers.

 On the other hand, a poll showed the opposition Liberal Democrats pulling ahead of the Democrats (yes, everybody is a "democrat" of some sort) for the first time. A poll of Okinawans showed that only 6% supported the PM while 72% wanted him to resign. While not as bad on the mainland, his support rate is mired around 15% (from 72% just 9 months ago).

 The Liberal Democrats have demanded the PM`s resignation and/or a snap election to "ratify" or "reject" the Futenma decision. This is rather blatantly disingenuous as the Futenma accord approved by Hatoyama is the one that the Liberal Democrats crafted themselves but it still seems to be working. Attacked from the left by erstwhile partners, the Social Democrats, and from the right, by the Liberal Democrats, and buffeted by hideous poll numbers, internal calls for the PM to step down have begun in earnest, with one unnamed member declaring that participating in the July Upper House election under the leadership of Hatoyama was "a descent into hell."

 Party boss, Ichiro Ozawa, mired in financial scandals and more unpopular than the PM, himself, held a meeting on May 31st and declared that the PM would continue. When public outcry followed, he announced late last night that there would be another meeting today (June 1st) and "all options were still on the table." A beleaguered Hatoyama meekly announced that "all we all can do is make our best effort."

 One saving grace for Hatoyama is the lack of a clear successor. The most obvious candidates were all involved in the Futenma deal and discredited. Anyone selected by the party boss will immediately bear the taint of his scandals. The Democrats may limp into the Upper House election with Hatoyama at the helm, despite everything. Still, a recent poll suggests that the Democrats may only win 40 or less seats in the chamber, down from their current 121, and will be without the support of the Social Democrats, as well.

 Many of the Japanese people I talk to share the same sentiment. They don`t want the return of the Liberal Democrats and their corrupt "political machine". They don`t trust the myriad new parties. They are fed up with the current Democratic Administration. Some may even vote for the Communists. Still, ultimately, they wonder why with so many choices, there is no one worth voting for!