Prime minister resigns in Japan
Cites battle over Okinawa base, funding scandal
TOKYO — Embattled Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama of Japan said today that he is resigning over his broken campaign promise to move a US Marine base off the southern island of Okinawa.
The prime minister faced growing pressure from within his own party to resign ahead of next month’s upper house elections. His approval ratings had plummeted over his bungled handling of the relocation of the Marine Air Station Futenma, which reinforced his public image as an indecisive leader.
Hatoyama is the fourth Japanese prime minister to resign in four years.
Until last night, Hatoyama insisted he would stay on while intermittently holding talks with key members of his Democratic Party of Japan. But this morning, after eight months in office, Hatoyama faced the nation to say he is stepping down.
“Since last year’s elections, I tried to change politics in which the people of Japan would be the main characters,’’ he told a news conference broadcast nationwide. But he conceded his efforts fell short.
“That’s mainly because of my failings,’’ he said.
Hatoyama, 63, cited two main reasons for his resignation: the Futenma issue, which led to the dismissal of one of his Cabinet members who could not accept his decision, and a political funding scandal. In that incident, two of his aides were convicted of falsifying political contribution reports and sentenced to suspended prison terms. Hatoyama did not face charges.
His government came to power amid high hopes in September after his party soundly defeated the long-ruling conservatives in lower house elections.
Hatoyama had promised to forge a “more equal’’ relationship with the United States and to move Futenma off Okinawa, which hosts more than half the 47,000 US troops in Japan under a security pact.
But last week, he said he would go along with the 2006 agreement to move the base to a northern part of the island, infuriating residents who want it off Okinawa entirely.
Hatoyama said today that recent tensions in the Korean peninsula surrounding the sinking of a South Korean warship reminded him of the potential instability in Northeast Asia and drove home the importance of the US-Japan security pact.
“There was no choice but to keep the base on Okinawa,’’ he said.
His three-way coalition was cut to two members over the weekend when a junior partner, the Social Democrats, withdrew after the prime minister expelled its leader Mizuho Fukushima, who rejected the Futenma decision, from the Cabinet.
“I need to take responsibility for forcing the Social Democrats to withdraw from the coalition,’’ Hatoyama said.
Fukushima’s dismissal enhanced her public standing as a politician who stood up for her convictions.