Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Hatoyama's Struggles

A year ago, in May 2009, Tobias Harris published "The DPJ bets on Hatoyama" on East Asia Forum. He stressed the risk associated with choosing Hatoyama to succeed Ozawa Ichiro, noting in particular Hatoyama’s history of indecisive leadership, poor decision-making skills, and over-reliance on those around him for guidance.

In his more recent "Japan: Hatoyama is the problem with his government," Harris declares:

"I don’t fault the Hatoyama government for taking on a tough issue like Futenma or postal privatization. After all, signaling changes of course on these policies is a good way to show how Westminster-style reforms can promote cabinet-led policy changes, making elections meaningful. But I fault the Hatoyama government — I fault the prime minister — for failing to exercise the least bit of control over his cabinet and his ruling party, making a total mess of these policies and others and dragging the government’s approval ratings into dismal terrain."

A Kyodo News poll showed Sunday that the support rate for the Hatoyama Cabinet has dropped to 33% and according to a poll released on Monday by the Yomiuri Newspaper, nearly half of Japan's voters support no political party, a sign of mounting frustration with both ruling and opposition parties ahead of an election expected in July.

For instance, Aurelia George Mulgan notes that in the past, the gaze of Japan’s Public Prosecutors Office (PPO), vigorous in its pursuit of politicians taking bribes, fell almost exclusively on LDP politicians. But in the last year or so, it has switched its gaze, and begun going after the two most prominent DPJ politicians: Secretary-General Ozawa and Prime Minister Hatoyama himself.

Now, former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, who is set to leave the LDP after severely criticizing the party leadership, and former trade minister Takeo Hiranuma confirmed Monday evening their plans to launch a new party by the end of the week.

Harris notes that for years polls have shown that the value the public wants in its leaders is ‘the ability to get things done.’ And at this point it’s the only way the DPJ can save itself. The questions to consider now are: Can the DPJ recover enough to retain power? Can Yosano's new party become one that represents a new alternative for voters dissatisfied with both the DPJ and the LDP?

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