Hatoyama toughens up to become prime minister
posted on Wednesday, September 16, 2009 12:37 PM
Yukio Hatoyama, 62, is called an ‘‘alien’’ from another planet and his political ‘‘spirit of fraternalism’’ has somewhat been glossed over but he has toughened up on his way to become Japan’s new prime minister.
My first encounter with Hatoyama was in August 1993 when he became deputy chief cabinet secretary under then Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa. I was a Kyodo News reporter assigned to cover Hatoyama’s office, and have covered him closely ever since.
Maybe he would find this offensive, but my tangible feeling is that he has achieved considerable growth. He likes to crack jokes—and I’ve heard him tell them a lot—and witnessed him behave like an ‘‘alien’’ many times.
However, I felt he had become a strong man capable of coping with things in multilateral areas in politics. I gained this impression in watching him succeed Ichiro Ozawa, 67, as president of Democratic Party of Japan in May.
I am inclined to believe that he laid the groundwork for the premiership himself at that time, three months before the general elections in which the DPJ drove the Liberal Democratic Party out of power by capturing 308 of the 480 seats in the powerful House of Representatives.
Ozawa stepped down following the arrest and indictment of his top secretary in a scandal involving alleged political donations by Nishimatsu Construction Co.
Hatoyama, who comes from a prominent political family—his grandfather was a prime minister in the postwar years, his father a top Finance Ministry bureaucrat before becoming a politician and foreign minister, and his younger brother a former Cabinet minister—staked his political life three times.
The first was in June 1993 when he bolted from the LDP and founded the now-defunct New Party Sakigake with Masayoshi Takemura and others, the second was when he rejected Takemura and established the former Democratic Party in September 1996 and the third was in May when he reclaimed the top post of the present DPJ. He was DPJ chief from 1999 to 2002.
Unlike the first two contests, Hatoyama’s latest action came as there was a strong possibility that he would succeed Taro Aso as the country’s next prime minister.
Hatoyama was ready to quit as party secretary general, declaring that he would sink or swim with Ozawa until just shortly before Ozawa announced his resignation. He must have ultimately opted for a smooth shift of the post to him by supporting Ozawa to the end and was quite ready to accept criticism from those in and out of the party.
Those around Hatoyama expressed concern that he would be dragged into accepting ‘‘joint responsibility’’ with Ozawa. However, Ozawa supporters who make up a powerful group within the party kept any apprehension from developing into internal strife.
Some party members may overrate Hatoyama for taking advantage of Ozawa in becoming the party president for the second time. On the other hand, Ozawa may have judged he could handle Hatoyama.
In observing the transference of the post in the DPJ, I reinforced my thought that Hatoyama is a man suited to political power struggles rather than policies.
Of the 10 founding members of the former New Party Sakigake, only a few were voted back to the lower house in the Aug. 30 general election, including Hatoyama and Hiroyuki Sonoda of the LDP. Many others have faded from national political circles.
A fact of life is that politicians who have talent for policies alone cannot survive.
It is natural that politicians’ objective is not to keep returning to the lower house in order to become prime minister. Their biggest goal is to put their ideal policies into practice in order to protect and enhance people’s lives.
Hatoyama may say he has spoken of ‘‘fraternity’’ many times but I hope he will explain it specifically in his speeches and in debates between top party leaders in the Diet.
Such action will be his last and real contest as he said he will retire from politics following the end of his tenure as the government leader.