Budget to be government’s top priority

Hatoyama: Too early to worry about election

by Jun Hongo

Passing the fiscal 2010 budget and averting a double-dip recession will be the government’s top priority heading into the new year, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said Monday.

Speaking at his first news conference of 2010, Hatoyama said it is critical for the Cabinet to show the public that power has been put in its hands by making good on the government’s pledges.

“2009 saw a once-in-a-century change of regime. We believe we are now at the starting line,” Hatoyama said, adding he will work quickly to get high-priority projects up and running, including distribution of monthly child care allowances and scrapping tuition at high schools.

The Hatoyama government approved on Dec. 25 the country’s largest-ever budget of ¥92.30 trillion for fiscal 2010, and the 150-day ordinary Diet session is expected to open around Jan. 18.

Hatoyama emphasized that the nation should have a forward-looking attitude despite the global economic downturn.

“Japan can play a leading role in the environment business,” he said, also expressing optimism that something generally seen as a drag on the economy — the aging population — can serve as the foundation of a strong health care industry.

Hatoyama said the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Japan-U.S. security treaty should be viewed as an occasion to expand bilateral ties.

A decision on the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be wrapped up “in some months” and will attempt to alleviate the burden of Okinawa while not making light of the 2006 accord reached between Tokyo and Washington, he said.

“The two sides should strengthen their bond by being able to express their opinions freely to one another,” Hatoyama said, stressing that ties between Japan and the U.S. remain the cornerstone of the government’s foreign policy.

Meanwhile, Hatoyama remained tight-lipped on the Democratic Party of Japan’s prospects for the Upper House poll in July, saying he will instead focus on passing the annual and supplementary budgets in the ordinary Diet session.

The prime minister said he has no intention of reshuffling the Cabinet ahead of the election, saying the current team will operate together for as long as possible.

The DPJ is aiming for a majority in the Upper House, which would free it from having to maintain its awkward three-way coalition with the Social Democratic Party of Japan and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party).

Hatoyama said the government “will do its best” until July, adding it “is not yet the time” to discuss specifics about the crucial election.