Like President Barack Obama, whose campaign themes he consciously adopted, Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama faces plummeting popularity figures in the latest poll by the Asahi:
Seventy-four percent of all respondents said the prime minister has failed to exercise leadership.
Half of those who do not support the Cabinet said the main reason was Hatoyama’s inability to act on his policies.
“We take the figures (in the Asahi survey) seriously and will reflect them in the management of the government,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano said Sunday.
Only 18 percent of the respondents said Hatoyama has shown leadership. Some members of his own government are now voicing concerns about Hatoyama’s abilities.
“Although the Futenma issue, the budget and financing are all difficult problems, the prime minister could say, ‘Here’s what we’re going to do.’ But he doesn’t. People are wondering if he is OK,” a Cabinet minister said.
Along with the abstract charges of dithery passivity, Hatoyama has had to respond to concrete charges that his employees use public funds improperly:
On Thursday, two of Hatoyama’s former secretaries were indicted without arrest over falsified fund reports in violation of the Political Funds Control Law.
Hatoyama’s former state-funded first secretary was indicted for entering false statements in official political funds reports. Prosecutors also filed a summary indictment against another former secretary over the case.
Hatoyama spoke to the media not at the Prime Minister’s Office–where he normally holds press conferences–but at a Tokyo hotel. He selected Tenzo Okumura, a Democratic Party of Japan member who does not hold a government position, to moderate the press conference, because the prime minister wanted to keep the issue separate from his government and minimize any fallout from the matter.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano also kept the matter at arm’s length at a press conference Thursday evening.
“That’s a problem that happened at an individual politician’s office,” he said.
Hatoyama reveled in being one of the most ardent critics of the then ruling Liberal Democratic Party whenever problems involving “politics and money” came to light when he was in opposition. He had insisted that LDP lawmakers “should be punished for crimes committed by their secretaries.”
The opposition parties plan to pursue Hatoyama over whether he will walk the walk in dealing with his scandal after talking the talk when others were in similar straits.
When reminded about these remarks at Thursday’s press conference, Hatoyama only said he did not think he had lined his pockets or had gained illegal profits, despite the fact he would have to file amended gift tax returns.
Hatoyama occasionally put on a defiant face at the press conference, saying, “Even though I’ve tried to give as full an account as possible, there are some details that the public won’t understand.”
It’s different for politicians, you see.
Frankly, I don’t have much trouble believing that a man of Hatoyama’s personality and approach did, in fact, entrust too much to the wrong underlings and therefore wasn’t involved in any book-cooking. But when hope-change types get their parties into power by implying that the opposition could easily clean house if it just tried hard enough to let in sunshine and sweep out the dirt, they’re asking to be held to that standard.
And, of course, one reason every misstep by the Hatoyama administration so grates on the public is that there’s a lot riding on the results of whatever policies is decides on. As a Mainichi editorial puts it:
To be sure, some policies to distribute money directly to households, which are just what you’d expect from a Hatoyama administration, will be realized: deep cuts in expenditures for public works, its having waved “from concrete to people” aloft as its slogan, and the implementation of allowances for children and an income-subsidy system for farmers. Because a “project reclassification” has been executed, the degree to which attention of the citizenry has been fixed on “use of tax revenues” is also probably unprecedented.
However, there’s a conspicuous lack of direction when it comes to prioritizing the elements of its core manifesto and setting a ceiling on the amount that can be issued in government bonds. In the background, there’s not only the absence of a command center for economic policy but also a lack of clarity about the future shame of the Japanese economy, including the financial restructuring policy that is the Hatoyama administration’s aim. No matter how much of the budget is scattered around with the aim of supporting people’s lives, if there’s no change in the sluggishness of the economy and the instability of the foundations of finance, the burden will ultimately fall on the way the citizenry lives.
Which is to say, someone’s going to have to start creating new wealth rather than spreading existing wealth around.
Hovering in there, of course, is also the Futenma relocation, which raises a lot of thorny questions on how Japan is positioning itself geopolitically.
In part, of course, expecting a Japanese cabinet to act decisively is unrealistic. Japan has, if anything, even more checks and balances than the US, though many are informal. But Hatoyama and the other DPJ candidates encouraged the Japanese to dream big about reform, and people are understandably less inclined to be content with the usual mealy-mouthed, study-the-problem-until-it-goes-away-by-itself approach.