Former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama says it was a “big mistake” to abandon his pledge to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma out of Okinawa.
Hatoyama became prime minister in September 2009, after the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan scored a landslide victory in the House of Representatives election on Aug. 30 that year with pledges to achieve politics led by politicians, not bureaucrats, and to relocate the base to somewhere other than Okinawa.
“There was an abnormally heated atmosphere in the election and an unbelievably large number of people gathered for street speeches,” Hatoyama, 72, said in a recent interview.
This atmosphere made him think that his rookie party would win the election, but at the same time he knew there would be difficult tasks ahead, Hatoyama said.
“The long reign under the Liberal Democratic Party produced problems, and anger toward them and past LDP administrations led to expectations for us,” he said.
After getting off to a strong start in office with high public support, the Hatoyama administration soon lost momentum partly because he withdrew the base relocation promise in May 2010.
“Looking back now, we could have discussed the relocation issue over a year or two. There was no need to hurry,” he said. Hatoyama retired from politics in 2012.
He added that he wanted to reach a conclusion before the House of Councilors election in July 2010 and the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November that year. He tried unsuccessfully to change the bilateral plan to move the base from Ginowan to Henoko, a coastal area in Nago, further north.
“It was a big mistake that I blindly accepted explanations by Foreign Ministry officials and thought, ‘We have no option but Henoko,'” Hatoyama said.
“When I first met then-U.S. President Barack Obama, we talked about a change of government in both the United States and Japan. I expected that he would deal with the relocation issue flexibly,” Hatoyama said.
“Obama never told me to choose Henoko, but he always told me to draw a conclusion early,” Hatoyama said.
“I was criticized for telling Obama ‘Trust me (on the issue),’ but I used the expression to ask him to understand my wish to relocate the base to a place other than Henoko,” he said.
Hatoyama moved to resign a month after withdrawing his relocation promise. His administration lasted only 266 days.
“I thought we’d lose in the (2010) Upper House election if we kept going this way, and I had no choice but to resign and pass the baton to (Naoto) Kan,” Hatoyama said.
“Public support did recover sharply” after Kan became prime minister, but the DPJ took a beating in the Upper House election after Kan suddenly proposed a consumption tax hike, Hatoyama said.
The tax hike issue later contributed to splitting the party. “We should have clenched our teeth and avoided the split,” Hatoyama said. “Who will trust a party that splits due to an internal conflict?
“Unless current opposition parties overcome internal conflicts, it will be difficult for them to stop Prime Minister Shinzo Abe,” he said.
Asked about the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, now the largest opposition group, and the second-biggest, the Democratic Party for the People, Hatoyama said he “completely” distances himself from them.
The two parties mainly consist of former DPJ members and are in talks to establish a joint group in each chamber of the Diet.
“Before discussing parliamentary groups, the opposition parties should give clear messages to the Japanese people after carefully assessing whether it is really OK with the position where the country stands now,” he said.
Talks by parliamentary groups without a clear philosophy will never raise the expectations of the public and may, in fact, reduce them, he said.
Hatoyama criticized Abe’s repeated description of the fledgling DPJ’s rule until December 2012 as a “nightmare.”
“Which administration is a nightmare?” Hatoyama asked. “I feel that thicker clouds are covering Japan.”