04/26/2010, 00.00
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Support for Hatoyama government plummets

by Pino Cazzaniga
Popularity rating drops from 71% to 25%. The Japanese disappointed incapacity of government and Prime Minister and problems with the U.S.. But the opposition is also at its lowest popularity: 14%. It is a crisis of politics.

Tokyo (AsiaNews) - "When public support of a government falls below 30%, it means that the government is in a bad way," writes a renowned analyst in Asahi newspaper. The euphemistic expression implies that the Japanese government appears close to collapse: an investigation conducted by the same newspaper on April 18, shows that the popularity index of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama stands at 25%, only seven months ago, when the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), of which Hatoyama is president, opened its government, the popularity index was 71%: one of the highest enjoyed by any previous government.

Is it simply a case of precarious public opinion? Not really. Sometimes, comments another analyst, popular opinion is "brutally honest". Most of the media indicate the reason for the drop in public support for Hatoyama in his inability to govern. It seems that the prime minister’s indecision is only the cause of the crisis. The reasons which reveal its significance and unfortunately, its severity are political in nature: in the last 10 years, both the political class - and opposition – as well as the people themselves did not realize that Japan was changing rapidly both in internally and in its international relations, responding effectively.

I will try to isolate and place them in a historical framework outlined by three events: the election of 31 August 2009, won with an overwhelming majority by the DPJ, the journalistic investigations of mid-April, which revealed the weakness of the government; the end of May , which is the time limit indicated by Hatoyama for a decision on the relocation of the Futenma U.S. military base on the island of Okinawa.


A democratic dream, but without programs

Yukio Hatoyama (63) was one of the few politicians who knew how to read the "signs of the times" for Japan. Rather than ambition, "genealogy" led him to embrace his political career. His grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama (1883-1959) was the first popularly elected post-war prime minister.  He was also a cofounder of the LDP, (1955), he' ruled for decades with an absolute majority, encouraging the economic development of Japan.  Moreover his father Iichiro (1918-1993) was foreign minister. Yukio, joined the LDP (1986), leaving its ranks in 1996, having sensed that the political party no longer met the needs of the times, He, then, with others founded the DPJ, which presented itself as the party of "historic change of regime." Noting the negative result, a critic wrote: "The (Hatoyama) government in virtual free-fall, has made a hoax of the motto 'historic regime change".

It was a beautiful dream, and in fact it found extraordinary electoral support. But it was too beautiful and has not been transformed into reality through a workable program. The people have turned their backs on the government because it has not kept its promises as set out in the so-called "Manifesto”, (party program), where among other things, they committed themselves to restoring policy making to the government taking it away from the bureaucrats. But competence is not created by simply replacing protagonists along idealistic lines.

The military base at Futenma and tension with the United States

"Japan is no longer on Obama's list of priorities”.  So read an article in The Korea Times from their correspondent in Washington. "When president Barack Obama took office”, the Korean newspaper comments, “he was quick to show his commitment to Japan inviting the then Japanese prime minister as his first guest to the White House, but ten days ago when Hatoyama went to Washington for a summit on nuclear safety, the American president only granted a private interview of 10 minutes during lunch. Instead he found time for official talks with 13 other leaders including Chinese President Hu Jintao, whom he entertained for 90 minutes. "

George Packard, president of the United States-Japan Foundation said: "I found it absolutely shocking that the two nations failed to schedule a meeting".

The friction between the two governments are the result of the Japanese Prime Minister’s Diplomatic ‘naïveté' and his slowness to work together to solve the problem of relocation of the U.S. military base at Futenma.

Interviewed by the Times Hatoyama said: "Japan has always acted in response to what the U.S. said. For us it is time to seek a more equal relationship. "

Much more problematic is the delay in response to the problem of Futenma base which is located in the city of Ginowan on the island of Okinawa, where there were the most deadly battles of the Pacific War. Twenty years after the end of that war, the U.S. returned the island to Japan, but keeping the military base for obvious strategic reasons: to control China and defend Taiwan and Japan. In 2006 the governments of Washington, and Tokyo have signed an agreement with mayors of local people to transfer the base near the city of Nago in the north of the island. But even here the population and mayor oppose the move.  Hatoyama has promised to do everything possible to meet the desires of the people.


Hatoyama is on the ropes

It is not just a matter of policy. A cooling of relations with America is not well regarded by many Japanese. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the pact of mutual security between the U.S. and Japan (1960). This pact enshrined Japan’s threefold antinuclear principle (not to produce, possess and not to introduce nuclear weapons) meaning Japan  can not have nuclear weapons, rather it makes use of anti-nuclear umbrella of the United States. And so it was able to use its prodigious energies and money on economic development, of which everyone is aware. In this context, in March Sadakazu Tanigaki, chairman of the LDP, now in opposition, asked Hatoyama about his intentions regarding the issue of Futenma. The Prime Minister committed himself  to expressing his decision by the end of May. A promised he confirmed during his brief meeting with President Obama in Washington. Pursuant to this commitment Hatoyama can no longer delay the decision beyond that date.  He is on the ropes.

Severe government paralysis looms

With the self-imposed ultimatum, the Prime Minister has gambled with his political life. If he fails to find a satisfactory solution he will have to resign. But then the crisis will be even more serious because it is not clear how early elections can create a more stable government.  It has emerged from the Asahi that popular support for the DPJ, Hatoyama’s party,is at '23%,but support for the LDP, the party ousted from government in August, has also dropped to 14%.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) must urgently rewrite its "Manifesto" to an achievable dimension and reconfigure the relationship between politicians and bureaucrats. If political parties do not wake up, then people will increasingly abandon them. a serious governmental stasis is looming.

This should concern everyone, because Japan is not a developing country. A recent survey conducted jointly by the BBC World Service and the Yomiuri Shimbun (Japanese newspaper) on world influence among 16 nations and the European Union, Japan, ties in second place with the EU, preceded by Germany.

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See also
Japan, Prime Minister Hatoyama resigns
Government change in Tokyo baffles politicians, worries ordinary people
Tokyo, the U.S. base remains on the island of Okinawa
Okinawans’ anger against Tokyo boils over
Okinawa: Protests against US bases in 50th year
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