The Monday defection of Kunio Hatoyama from the Liberal Democratic Party has caused a stir in the former ruling party that for most of the postwar era was an electoral juggernaut. But experts and lawmakers say it is unlikely to create a fundamental power shift.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan, for its part, seems less than impressed. The younger brother of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama “is touting a change of government, but he probably means a realignment of the LDP,” DPJ Diet Affairs Committee Chairman Kenji Yamaoka told reporters Tuesday.
The veteran lawmaker insisted the DPJ is unaffected by the younger Hatoyama’s decision, and maintained the ruling bloc is untroubled by strife in the opposition.
Monday’s move wasn’t the first for Kunio Hatoyama, 61.
He resigned from the Lower House in 1999 in an unsuccessful run for Tokyo governor. In 1993, he walked away from the LDP, later joining a non-LDP government led by Prime Minister Tsutomu Hata.
Whether his latest exit pays off depends on if others follow him, with big names including Yoichi Masuzoe and Kaoru Yosano frequently criticizing LDP President Sadakazu Tanigaki. So far, Masuzoe and Yosano have kept mum.
While they acknowledge the LDP has hit a snag, observers say it would be difficult for dissenters within the party to unite.
“After all, the people who criticize Tanigaki are the same people who elected Tanigaki as their leader in the first place,” political analyst Minoru Morita told The Japan Times.
“In truth, this is all about some of the LDP members not being able to tolerate their role as the opposition,” he said, noting dozens of lawmakers opted to leave when the LDP briefly lost power in the mid-1990s.
Hatoyama’s move so far doesn’t seem to have inspired others to follow him, with some media reports already predicting that Hatoyama may have trouble finding the minimum five lawmakers needed to form a political party.
Kunio Hatoyama’s defection “is not something that would lead to a change of government anyway,” analyst Morita said, noting the move, at best, will probably end with the formation of a minor party that will eventually be absorbed by a larger one.
In addition to weathering criticism from LDP executives and analysts, Hatoyama’s decision also drew a rebuke from the DPJ on Tuesday.
State Minister Yoshito Sengoku called Hatoyama’s decision “10 years too late,” saying his reasons for leaving the LDP at this point are unclear.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano told reporters he has no plans of cooperating with Kunio Hatoyama, while the prime minister has so far had nothing kind to say about his younger brother’s decision.
But Hatoyama’s departure could, ironically, work in the LDP’s favor, allowing it to separate itself from the political funding scandal that has ensnared the Hatoyama family.
While the prime minister has seen his former secretaries arrested over unregistered donations made by his 87-year-old mother, the LDP’s grilling had been tempered by the fact that Kunio also received ¥3.6 billion from the family matriarch between 2003 and 2008.
With Kunio out of the picture, Tanigaki and the LDP won’t have to pull their punches.
“If the number of (people) who follow Kunio Hatoyama’s steps is limited, unity within the LDP could grow stronger,” analyst Morita also said. “Such a scenario could weaken the positions of (Tanigaki opponents) Yosano and Masuzoe within the party.”
LDP rebels talk
Former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano, a veteran lawmaker of the Liberal Democratic Party who is critical of the top opposition party’s leadership, held talks Tuesday with former internal affairs minister Kunio Hatoyama, who resigned from the LDP the previous day.
Yosano and Hatoyama, both Lower House members, talked briefly on the chamber’s floor. Hatoyama later declined to elaborate on their conversation, but asked if they talked about forming a new party, he told reporters, “We can talk eye to eye.”
Hatoyama also exchanged words with his brother, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, in the chamber. But Kunio denied that they discussed a possible partnership.