Voters mixed over sudden resignation

But many still willing to back DPJ in July poll

by Eric Johnston

Voters interviewed Wednesday by The Japan Times on the streets of Tokyo and Osaka had mixed reactions about the resignation of Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, speculating the ruling Democratic Party of Japan was growing deeply worried about next month’s Upper House election.

But many shared the opinion that despite Hatoyama’s resignation, they were willing to continue their support of the DPJ, which came to power after winning the general election in August 2009 by a landslide, ousting the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

Near JR Yurakucho Station, Susumu Oshima, 59, a company employee from Saitama Prefecture, said Hatoyama made the right decision to resign.

“A prime minister’s words weigh heavily, but he went back on his promise about Okinawa, so it’s a matter of course,” he said, referring to Hatoyama’s unrealized pledge to relocate U.S. Marine Corp Air Station Futenma outside the prefecture.

Oshima said the resignation of DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa, whose political funds management body was found to have made false reports, was not surprising. “The two ran the party together, but the money scandals almost made it seem like they were the same as the Liberal Democratic Party.”

Near JR Shibuya Station, Hiroshi Kobayashi, 65, a corporate manager, said Hatoyama’s decision came too late.

“The bad apple (in the DPJ) is Ichiro Ozawa. . . . Hatoyama has been manipulated by Ozawa. I think both Ozawa and Hatoyama should resign as Diet members,” he said.

He speculated that Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Naoto Kan may replace Hatoyama, but questioned whether that was going to change the DPJ entirely.

“Nothing will change unless the DPJ becomes a party where younger lawmakers can freely voice their opinions,” he said.

Kobayashi, who voted for the DPJ in the August election only to “teach the long-ruling LDP a lesson,” said he wanted to see young lawmakers of both the LDP and DPJ get together and form a new party.

Some voters who supported Hatoyama expressed disappointment over his resignation.

Yokohama resident Hideyuki Fujino, 39, said he was sorry Hatoyama was blamed for the political funds scandal involving his mother. “The money was coming from his own mother, so I feel it is not something to be blamed for,” said Fujino, a company employee.

Fujino, who voted for the DPJ in August because he thought the country’s economic condition wouldn’t improve under the LDP, said he may continue to support the DPJ in the July Upper House election.

His opinion was echoed by a 33-year-old office worker from Koto Ward, who said she was disappointed that Hatoyama resigned. “I liked him because he seemed to talk to us in his own words,” said the woman, who declined to be named.

The woman said she had a positive impression of the DPJ for making politics more interesting for her. “When the DPJ came to power, I felt that our voices were heard more than they used to be with the LDP. They felt more distant,” said the woman, who is expecting a child next month.

Near JR Shinbashi Station, a 21-year-old college student from Nerima Ward said she was surprised to see on television Wednesday morning that Hatoyama had announced his exit. When she saw news reports Tuesday night showing him giving the thumbs up to the media, she thought it was a sign he wasn’t going to quit.

The student, who also asked that her name be withheld, said she will look carefully at the various issues before casting her vote in July. “It won’t be just about the relocation of Futenma, but other things like the record of the candidates and the parties,” she said.

In Osaka, Shigeru Kato, 48, also said Hatoyama’s resignation was inevitable, given his loss of popularity over the Futenma relocation issue and the political funds scandals and worries within the DPJ about the Upper House election.

“But that doesn’t mean that people in Osaka are going to support the opposition candidates in next month’s election. That will depend on Hatoyama’s replacement and whether or not he and the DPJ continue to support regional revitalization and the economic reforms they promised,” said Kato, who works in Osaka’s Kitahama financial district.

Some who supported Hatoyama’s goal of moving Futenma outside Okinawa said that, while he badly handled negotiations with the United States, he got more Japanese to question why the base had to be in Okinawa when it was clear the majority of Okinawans did not want it there.

“Hopefully, the next prime minister will learn from Hatoyama’s mistakes and work with the U.S. to come up with a new plan that gets Futenma out of Okinawa, although it would be tough to find another prefecture willing to host the base,” said Emiko Fukuyama, 57, who works for a small firm in Osaka’s Namba district.

Anger in Okinawa

Kyodo News

Okinawans expressed anger toward Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama after his abrupt announcement Wednesday to step down, with some calling his decision to quit irresponsible amid a plethora of unsolved issues such as the relocation of a key U.S. military base in Okinawa.

“He just ran away from the issue of Okinawa. It’s extremely irresponsible to toss away something he started,” said Hiroshi Ashitomi, a 63-year-old resident of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, who opposes the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma airfield within the island prefecture. Nago is being eyed by the Japanese and U.S. governments as the relocation site for the air base.

Kenichi Moriyama, 68, another resident of the city, said Hatoyama lacks understanding of the prefecture, which has been hosting U.S. bases for 65 years.