On the 100th day since the launch of his Cabinet, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama found himself Thursday under increasing pressure following the indictment of two former secretaries over a funding scandal.
His Cabinet still enjoys relatively high voter support, but the scandal could begin to erase this as the government is already struggling to deal with numerous other problems, including a dispute over the relocation of a U.S. Marine base in Okinawa.
The secretaries were charged Thursday over falsified political funds reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.
At a hastily called press conference after the pair were charged, Hatoyama, who was sworn in on Sept. 16, claimed he had known nothing about the falsifications, effectively blaming the aides for the irregularities, which included listing deceased people as contributors to his fund management body to conceal that massive funds had been provided by his family, particularly his 87-year-old mother, Yasuko, heiress to the Bridgestone tire fortune.
When the exorbitant amounts were revealed, the Hatoyama side at first claimed they constituted "loans," but then later admitted they constituted gifts and he agreed to pay some ¥600 million in gift taxes and arrests, earlier reports said.
Given what he used to say when his Democratic Party of Japan was still in the opposition camp, however, his explanation at the press conference might seem less than convincing.
In 2002, Hatoyama urged Koichi Kato, who was secretary general of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party, to step down to take the responsibility for the arrest of a secretary in connection with tax evasion, saying at a party meeting that a lawmaker and a secretary are "coprincipals."
"The sin committed by the treasurer is your own," Hatoyama said. "Without that awareness, no one can be qualified to be a politician."
Kato did indeed resign as a House of Representatives lawmaker, although he won back his Diet seat again.
Also, in a fraud case involving a policy secretary of a Social Democratic Party lawmaker in 2003, Hatoyama said on his Web site, "Politicians often say 'That was something done by my secretary' in order to dodge his or her own responsibility, but that is outrageous."
Hatoyama said at the time: "Politicians basically leave the management of money to secretaries, and they should accept punishment for any crimes committed by the secretaries."
At the press conference Thursday, Hatoyama tried to differentiate these past cases from his own, saying he had no intention of increasing his personal fortune or gaining any illegal profits, unlike the politicians he attacked.
But some opinion polls show that many voters have not been convinced by his explanations to date. The 62-year-old leader in fact gave little explanation about the matter, citing the ongoing investigation by prosecutors as a reason for discretion.
In addition to the accounting irregularities, Hatoyama is also having to deal with various other problems and seems to be aware that the public has been frustrated over his management of the government.
"I sense feelings of impatience and frustration among people," Hatoyama told reporters in front of his residence Thursday morning.
But he also said he is confident that the proposed fiscal 2010 budget will help to lay the groundwork for a government that can protect the people's livelihoods.
"But I want them to look at our budget formulation," he said. "As it is a budget that places more importance on people's livelihoods, we have more - in the area of social welfare.”
|In the rough?: Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama holds a putter as professional golfer Ryo Ishikawa, winner of the Japan Professional Sports Award, looks on at the Prime Minister's Official Residence Friday.