The chasm within the ruling coalition grew deeper Tuesday as Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama expressed dissatisfaction over a visit by Social Democratic Party chief Mizuho Fukushima to Okinawa.
Fukushima, who vocally opposes Hatoyama’s plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture, met Tuesday with Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and local officials to exchange opinions on the contentious issue.
“For (Fukushima) to make the visit now as a member of the Cabinet is questionable,” Hatoyama said. “But it may be inevitable considering her position as the head of the SDP.”
Fukushima, who serves as the state minister in charge of consumer affairs and matters pertaining to the declining birthrate, said she made the trip not as a Cabinet member but as the SDP leader.
During their meeting in Naha, Fukushima told Nakaima that Japan “should not add any more military bases in Okinawa.” Nakaima responded by encouraging the SDP chief to “resolve the issue in a way that can win consent from Okinawa residents.”
They reaffirmed their joint efforts to press the administration not to relocate the base to the Henoko coast at Camp Schwab in Nago, the same location agreed on by Japan and the United States in 2006.
Despite having pledged to move Futenma out of Okinawa, the DPJ-led administration is expected to formally announce Friday it will relocate the base, which is now in Ginowan, to Henoko.
The left-leaning SDP has criticized Hatoyama for prioritizing negotiations with the United States and failing to work out an agreement with the local government and within the coalition.
Fukushima indicated she will reject signing any official Cabinet approval to relocate the base within Okinawa, a move that would force Hatoyama to settle the dispute with a prime minister’s statement instead of by Cabinet consent.
Fukushima warned of pulling the SDP out of the coalition if the government resorts to such an action.
A departure from the DPJ-led bloc is possible “depending on the form of agreement” to be released by the administration, Fukushima said.
The partnership with the SDP remains essential for the DPJ, with recent polls indicating a tough road ahead for the party in the Upper House election. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano expressed hope that the relocation issue won’t lead to a breakup of the bloc, saying the SDP’s ideals are reasonable and it is “acceptable for Fukushima to express them” as the party’s leader.
But the future of the SDP remains unclear as party members mull over the benefits of staying within the administration.
Some SDP members, including Okinawa native Kantoku Teruya, have endorsed parting ways with the DPJ if Hatoyama opts to relocate Futenma within Okinawa.
Others, like SDP policy chief Tomoko Abe, feel remaining in the coalition would give them more power over the relocation issue.
Opposition parties have criticized the development within the Cabinet, with the Liberal Democratic Party demanding Fukushima’s swift resignation.
Fukushima “should resign from the Cabinet if she is against the administration’s policies,” LDP Secretary General Tadamori Oshima said Tuesday.
The fact that Hatoyama was unable to prevent Fukushima’s visit to Okinawa illustrates the lack of unity within the administration, he said.
Information from Kyodo added