Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 06:34 | SYDNEY
Thursday 19 Jul 2018 | 06:34 | SYDNEY

Hatoyama: Lost in space

7 June 2010 12:52

Rikki Kersten is a professorĀ of politics at the Australian National University.

Before becoming Prime Minister, Hatoyama Yukio cleverly embraced his nick-name of 'uchu-jin' (alien) by producing t-shirts showing his bulbous eyes and bouffant hair squeezed into a space helmet. His campaign team eventually saw their quirky boss elected to Japan's parliament on a trajectory to the top job.

It wasn't long before Japan's seasoned political analysts were openly wishing that someone would refuel his spaceship so that he could 'go back to uchu' (space). After a historic landslide win last August, Hatoyama crashed and burned in a way that must send chills up Kevin Rudd's spine.

How did Hatoyama get so lost, so fast?

Commentators have pointed to funding scandals and to vacillation over Okinawa as the reasons for Hatoyama's demise. This is only partly correct. For most Japanese, Hatoyama's private wealth was not a sacking offence. He fitted neatly into a familiar category in Japan of a rich family's son (botchan). When he claimed that he had not noticed the millions of yen sent his way by his mum every month, most Japanese took it in their stride.

When it comes to Okinawa, Hatoyama's main sin was telling people what he knew they wanted to hear during the campaign, and sticking to the script after he won. Okinawans had never been promised by anyone in high office that the bases would be removed from Okinawa, and they were cruelly led on by Hatoyama despite the absence of any viable alternative.

But most Japanese do not care about the Okinawa issue. What did bother people was the clear evidence that Hatoyama made promises he could not keep. Even worse, it was blatantly obvious that he was incapable of leading government and implementing policy.

From day one of the DPJ coalition, their coalition partner Kamei Shizuka was bent on wrecking this government. Kamei's daily contradictions of ministerial statements were also corrosive. The parade of tit-for-tat statements between cabinet ministers on the nightly news was another telling indicator of Hatoyama's ineffectual leadership. And the high profile of the brilliant political strategist Ozawa Ichiro was a sign that Hatoyama was not running the show. Last, the Obama administration did not lift a finger to help the floundering Hatoyama.

In the end, Hatoyama was utterly confounded by Japan's political reality: an electorate that screamed out for genuine change, and an administration that had no road-map for how to deliver it.

Photo by Flickr user JanneM, used under a Creative Commons license.