Japanese PM quits over US marine base row
Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned yesterday to improve his party's chances in an election next month, after his popularity plunged over his broken campaign promise to move a US Marine base.
Finance minister Naoto Kan, who has a clean and defiant image, emerged as a likely successor. He signalled that he intended to run for leadership of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan at a party meeting to be held tomorrow.
Hatoyama swept into office just eight months ago, defeating the long-ruling conservatives and capturing voters' imaginations with his promises to bring change and transparency to government.
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 20pc.
"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.
Mr Hatoyama, a 63-year-old professor-like millionaire with a PhD 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 was nicknamed "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. But he conceded his efforts fell short and people stopped listening to him.
In recent days, calls grew within his own party for Mr Hatoyama to quit or endanger its chances in upper house elections, likely to be held sometime in July.
The grandson of an earlier prime minister, he acknowledged that he had disappointed the country on the Futenma issue, as well as the funding scandal.
The party's secretary general Ichiro Ozawa also resigned.
The party will meet tomorrow 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 the parliament.
Analysts say the new prime minister faces an enormously challenging and unenviable job of steering his party through an extremely difficult election and minimising the damage.