Hatoyama sets agenda in Diet

Government to focus on 'protecting lives'

by Jun Hongo and Alex Martin

Drawing on Gandhi quotes for inspiration, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama called on his colleagues Friday to make 2010 “a new start for Japan” in his first administrative policy speech at the ordinary Diet session.

The prime minister began by repeatedly stressing he wants to “protect lives” and laid out the agenda of his Democratic Party of Japan-led government for rejuvenating the economy, halting global warming and creating stronger ties with the United States and Japan’s Asian neighbors.

Hatoyama reaffirmed the importance of ties with the United States and said they would remain unchanged. The relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma will be resolved by the end of May, taking into account both the relationship with the U.S. as well as easing the burden on Okinawa, he said.

Hatoyama did his best to downplay the political funding scandal that has plagued him in recent weeks, saying only that he apologized for causing problems. He made no mention of the funds scandal involving DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa.

“I strongly hope that bipartisan discussions on revising funds management will take place proactively” he said.

The speech, delivered a day after the ¥7.9 trillion supplementary budget cleared the Diet, focused more on Hatoyama’s ideals rather than specific government plans.

Hatoyama quoted the seven social sins listed by Gandhi, including “commerce without morality” and “politics without principle,” saying such failings accurately portray the problems Japan and the world face today.

On the economic front, Hatoyama warned that commerce without morals has failed to bring true wealth to the people. Economic activities should be managed to provide better life for the masses, he said, adding the DPJ plans to cut the country’s public works budget by 18.3 percent, redirecting those funds to social welfare and education.

The fiscal 2010 annual budget plan has been designed as “a budget that protects the public’s lives,” he said.

Although the unemployment rate remains high since the global economic downturn, the prime minister expressed optimism that passing the fiscal 2010 budget will provide opportunities for jobless workers.

“Next year’s fiscal budget should clear the Diet as quickly as possible and put into practice” steps to reduce the unemployment rate, Hatoyama told reporters earlier in the day.

Touching on the work of the DPJ’s administrative reform panel, which trimmed the budget passed by the previous Liberal Democratic Party-led administration, Hatoyama said in the Diet speech that cleaning up postwar administrative policies will remain a priority for his Cabinet.

“We succeeded in creating the budget with the participation of the public,” Hatoyama said, pledging to continue government reform, including a possible restructuring of ministries later this year.

On fighting climate change, Hatoyama warned that mankind has continued to use up natural resources at an astonishing pace, resulting in destruction of the environment and causing an unprecedented fall in biodiversity.

He acknowledged that some have said the government’s goal to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from 1990 levels by 2020 is ambitious, but said it should be seen as an opportunity to develop new lifestyles and industries.

“This is a chance to create new demand. The government will mobilize its policies for the creation of a low-carbon society,” he said.

In line with his proposal for stronger ties in East Asia, Hatoyama said Japan should see its neighbors as partners who can grow together. Tokyo will continue pursuing a strategic partnership with Beijing, while strengthening ties with South Korea “without turning a blind eye to the past” but also in an attempt to create an amicable partnership for the future, he said.

Ties with North Korea should be normalized after the North’s abductions and nuclear and missile threats are comprehensively resolved, he added.

In contrast with past speeches, Hatoyama avoided listing his government’s policies, instead devoting more time to his political beliefs. DPJ members applauded while the opposition, led by LDP lawmakers, continually jeered the speech.

“It’s unclear what Prime Minister Hatoyama was implying by ‘protecting lives,’ ” LDP Lower House member Shinjiro Koizumi told reporters, saying Hatoyama’s words lacked substance.

The Diet will start deliberations on the fiscal 2010 budget from next week, which the government hopes to pass by the end of March. Meanwhile the DPJ and LDP have agreed to hold sessions in mid-February focused on Hatoyama’s and Ozawa’s murky fundraising. Hatoyama and LDP chief Sadakazu Tanigaki are also scheduled to hold a debate next month.