Foreign and Defense Policy, Asia

Less Hope and Change in Japan

yukio_hatoyamaGoverning realities continue to bog down Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who is now facing increased political and legal pressure over a fundraising scandal. Yesterday, a former aide was indicted for violating Japan’s political funds control law; charges include involvement of Hatoyama’s mother and sister. Fundraising scandals are the primary bete noir of Japanese politicians, and the real powerbroker inside Hatoyama’s Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Ichiro Ozawa, was himself forced to resign this year as head of the party due to an aide’s fundraising illegalities.

Yet Hatoyama is also being pummeled on policy issues, not least of which is the deadlock over fulfilling a 2006 agreement with the United States to move Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to another location on the island of Okinawa as part of a larger realignment of U.S. forces. More significantly, some of Hatoyama’s signature domestic plans are beginning to evaporate, as he backs down on campaign promises to abolish the country’s onerous highway toll system and to eliminate a gasoline surtax. On both domestic and foreign issues, moreover, Hatoyama is finding it particularly difficult to deal with his Upper House coalition partners, who are hamstringing key policies. The result, as media note, is a precipitous slide in his job approval ratings, falling in one leading newspaper’s poll from a high of 62 percent in November to just 48 percent currently.

Hatoyama and his DPJ swept to power this summer as agents of change, though Japanese were well aware that the party was untested in the realities of ruling. Unforced mistakes on the new government’s part along with dismal revenue numbers are beginning to dissipate the sense of optimism that infused the public just months ago. In the Asian zodiac calendar, 2010 is the Year of the Tiger, traditionally one of volatility, disputes, and disasters; it’s also one where bold action is often required. Hatoyama may well find out how accurate those predictions can be.

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