Farewell to the Shadow Shoguns

TOKYO – It’s déjà vu all over again in Japan. Despite a landslide electoral victory for his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) last September, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned only 262 days after taking office. Sadly, abrupt changes of prime minister are practically an annual event in Japan nowadays, as Hatoyama’s resignation marks the fourth sudden transfer of power to a new leader in the past four years.

While in opposition, the DPJ bashed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) for flipping through leader after leader. With the DPJ now doing the same thing, the Japanese public is flabbergasted, and people are beginning to ask if there is something rotten in their political system.

Hatoyama’s inept handling of key national security issues played a key role in his undoing. He alienated his Social Democratic Party (SDP) allies by opting – after months of dithering – to honor an agreement with the United States ensuring the future of the Futenma Airbase on Okinawa. Having promised to shut the base in the campaign, and having also pushed for its removal while in office, Hatoyama’s reversal forced the Socialists to exit the coalition. The SDP had promised that the base would leave Japan.

Not only did Hatoyama lose a key coalition partner, but the man who put him in the premiership has also been forced out. DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa – the party’s shadowy power broker – resigned from his post simultaneously with Hatoyama. Ozawa’s aspiration to make the next election the grand finale of his political career by cementing the DPJ as a party of government now seems in jeopardy.