Tokyo Notes

Screaming for Attention

The prime minister’s little brother has an odd way of showing he can be a team player.

Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s younger brother is again crying out for attention here in Japan. He announced yesterday his intention to form a new political force and to bolt from the main opposition party. But in making his melodramatic statement of intent, Kunio Hatoyama may have actually jumped the gun, to the embarrassment of his intended comrades.

Hatoyama’s move comes close on the heels of internal ultimatums for a major rethink by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which after decades of power now seems at a loss as to how to regain support–even as the ruling Democratic Party of Japan is shedding support over various financing scandals. Former Health and Welfare Minister Yoichi Masuzoe and former Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano have already played their cards to the point of brinkmanship, demanding that the LDP leadership gets it act together or face a break up of the party triggered by their respective departures.

Hatoyama has reportedly been in discussions with Yosano and Masuzoe and mentioned them both by name in a move that might have left them feeling red in the face. Theatrically referring to himself as a modern day Ryoma Sakamoto–the man who helped forge a disparate but ultimately victorious alliance of forces against Japan’s feudal shogunate in the 19th century–Hatoyama said at a news conference Monday that he wanted to be the ‘glue’ that held an alliance together, with Yosano and Masuzoe taking the leading roles.

If that was his true intention, it seems a peculiar way to go about it. Surely, he would have first coordinated opinions among the three so that they could all leave the LDP together to form a new political party if he really wanted to play a subsidiary role? Instead, it seems he’s gambled on creating a party of his own, in which he calls the shots, to which he can then attract Yosano, Masuzoe and others before this summer’s upper house election.

This is not the first ambitious move by Hatoyama–in 1999 he stood for Tokyo governor as an independent. Nor will it will not be his first gamble–his insistence on the stepping down of Yoshifumi Nishikawa as head of Japan Post Holdings last year did indeed lead to a resignation–his own as internal affairs minister. Nor even will it be the first time he has jumped ship. In fact, it’s the second time he’s deserted the LDP, that’s before we even get to the various other parties he’s left over the years, including the earlier version of the DPJ he launched with brother Yukio in 1996 (he left that party after concluding his less ambitious and more boffin-like brother was too much of a lefty).

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But it’s the older brother who’s now prime minister, while the younger brother waits for allies to join him such as former LDP trade minister and postal rebel independent Takeo Hiranuma.

Will Yosano and Masuzoe follow Hatoyama’s lead? Today each was keeping his counsel while Hatoyama started to soft-pedal.

According to major daily the Asahi Shimbun, Hatoyama refined his tone this morning, saying: ‘Whether this ends up as the act of a single man, or if a potent opposition party can grow from this, all depends on what happens from this point on.’