The future of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama appeared to be hanging by a thread Tuesday night after key Democratic Party of Japan officials held an inconclusive meeting amid calls within the party for him to step down ahead of the Upper House election.
DPJ President Hatoyama, Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa — who is also under fire over a money scandal — and Upper House caucus leader Azuma Koshiishi agreed to hold further discussions after their hastily arranged meeting in the evening.
They emerged from the talks tight-lipped about what they discussed.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said without elaborating that the three “will continue exchanging opinions.”
The DPJ announced shortly after the meeting that Ozawa wouldn’t hold a news conference at least until Wednesday. He canceled his regular news conference on Monday.
Earlier in the day, Hatoyama suggested he had no intention of stepping down as prime minister.
“By holding discussions with Secretary General Ozawa and cooperating with him, I will stand up to face this national crisis,” Hatoyama said when asked how he would respond to the calls for his resignation.
Hatoyama is coming under increasing pressure to move aside, with public support for his Cabinet falling below 20 percent and the Social Democratic Party leaving the ruling bloc after opposing his policy for the relocation of the Futenma military base within Okinawa Prefecture.
“What matters are people’s livelihoods,” Hatoyama said. “This new administration was launched to substantially change policies, and I want to continue acting in a way that fits this new administration.”
A growing number of DPJ lawmakers, especially Upper House members whose terms will expire in July, believe the party is certain to face an uphill battle in the election expected to be held July 11.
Some political observers say the dissatisfaction among the Upper House caucus could lead to calls for Ozawa to step down along with Hatoyama.
In their meeting, Hatoyama, Ozawa and Koshiishi were believed to have talked over how the party should run the government without cooperation from the SDP, party sources said. They also likely mulled DPJ strategy for the Upper House race.
When they met Monday, Koshiishi explained that circumstances had turned against the DPJ with regard to the election. This was seen within the party as Koshiishi in effect asking Hatoyama to step down as prime minister, the sources said.
“There are views that the Cabinet approval rating would rebound to around 40 percent if the DPJ changes its book cover,” a DPJ executive in the Upper House said on condition of anonymity. “The DPJ has a history of winning elections by changing its leader.”
Most Cabinet members expressed their support for Hatoyama, including Finance Minister Naoto Kan.
Shizuka Kamei, leader of Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party), the DPJ’s remaining coalition partner, phoned Hatoyama twice late Monday to tell him that “nothing will change even if you step down,” according to sources close to Kamei.