Tokyo Notes

More Hatoyama Hindsight

What does Hatoyama’s resignation mean for DPJ prospects in July’s upper house poll?

This is a guest entry by The Diplomat Editor Jason Miks.

Hindsight is 20/20, but did the Democratic Party of Japan make a mistake by selecting Yukio Hatoyama to lead them? I posed this question to Japan analyst Tobias Harris, author of the Observing Japan site. He rightly points out that, in fact, it's probably not fair to suggest the DPJ even chose Hatoyama – 'shadow shogun' Ichiro Ozawa effectively arranged for Hatoyama to succeed him as leader of the party last year.

Harris continued:

'When Hatoyama was chosen to replace Ozawa, I wrote that the DPJ was taking a "risk" by choosing him. When in leadership positions, Hatoyama had never appeared all that impressive or decisive. He struck me as a good choice to get the party through the election—considering that Ozawa had thrown what should have been a sure thing into doubt — because he was likable, a bit odd, and was generally acceptable to the DPJ's various groups. However, when it came to governing, I thought he would be risky because of his indecisiveness, his inability to keep his own counsel, and his problematic
relationship with Ozawa.'

Next month sees crucial upper house elections in which the DPJ had been hoping to secure a majority that would allow it to govern properly independent of its coalition partners. Does Hatoyama's resignation make that more or less likely? Harris seems to think it could actually benefit the party:

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'Insofar as I can tell, having the two resign (Ozawa and Hatoyama) might actually give a boost to the party's prospects in the election if they can manage the transition smoothly and signal that they've learned from the disastrous nine months of the Hatoyama government,' he told me. 'They need to return to the message that got them elected in the first place, that they would be clean, transparent, and responsive to the public's needs.'

Regular Tokyo Notes blogger Paul Jackson will be back tomorrow with his assessment. Meanwhile, I'll be blogging on the Shangri-la Dialogue in Singapore over on the China Power blog from Friday.