INTERVIEW: Ex-leader Hatoyama admits failings, but defends DPJ worldview

March 22, 2013


Many people expected Yukio Hatoyama to bring about major change in Japan after an August 2009 Lower House election swept the Democratic Party of Japan to power.

Those hopes were quickly dashed, however, and Prime Minister Hatoyama became known as a failed leader.

While part of the problem may have been unrealistic expectations, simply forgetting Hatoyama will not help in understanding what caused his downfall. And nor will it help Japan to deal with a similar situation, should one arise in the future.

To obtain a better grasp of what was behind the failure of the DPJ-led government, The Asahi Shimbun asked Hatoyama about his understanding of what happened.

Excerpts of the interview follow:

* * *

Question: We asked that you appear for this interview in clothing that is very you. Is the jacket you are wearing a patchwork design?

Hatoyama: I decided to wear a red belt. When I thought about it, since I am no longer a politician I do not have to wear a suit, do I?

Q: The administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is off to a quick start. The focus in politics seems to be not one of what Japan should be like 10 years from now, but on making an immediate improvement in the economy. What do you think?

A: It would be preferable if "Abenomics" (the package of economic measures being implemented by the Abe administration) brought about a society in which the public feels truly satisfied, but I do not think this will happen.

It is, of course, a good thing that the economy improves as a result of a more positive attitude on the part of the public. However, I do not believe that the effects from the three-pronged (policy package) will be sustained.

I feel a sense of emptiness because while so many people seem to be happy about this, I myself wonder if it alone is enough.

Q: Although political leaders should normally be expected to talk about ideals, does it not appear that because of your failure there has been a return to a politics of seeking short-term benefits?

A: While I did talk about ideals, I was unable to realize them sufficiently. I am responsible for that. However, it is regrettable that all subsequent administrations have taken the course of completely accepting the present reality.

Q: If things remain unchanged, isn't there the possibility that people will begin to think that the three-plus years of a DPJ-led government simply did not happen?

A: If the people had been truly satisfied with the situation in Japan, they should have continued with an LDP government. The society had become one in which only those few people who had managed to join the circle of vested interests were able to enjoy the benefits. Many others, especially people in the weaker positions in society, went unrewarded for their efforts.

However, there was a feeling that this was not right. There was a move to eliminate the collusion between the political, bureaucratic and business sectors and to defeat vested interests in order to cast light on the socially vulnerable and to create a society in which people could consider the happiness of others to be their own joy, too.

That is the starting point of the DPJ.

However, after we achieved a change of government, the DPJ in the end became the cheerleaders for the Finance Ministry, which can be considered to be Japan's largest vested interest.

Q: Wasn't there inexperience in everything the DPJ tried to do?

A: No, while this may sound contradictory, I believe the DPJ's true nature was that it had such little experience.

It was attractive as a group that could take on vested interests, precisely because it had no experience.

However, that was demonstrated only when it was in opposition.

When DPJ lawmakers came to lead the various ministries, they found themselves feeling very comfortable there and, before long, became wrapped up in the ministry's established logic, something they should have confronted.

If they said, "I will leave things up to you," then the bureaucrats would work hard and the minister himself would have an easy time.

While the DPJ was earnest about reforming the system, that alone cannot change how politics works.

It is possible that we underestimated true human nature, which is to become comfortable once power lies in one's hands.

At the same time, I would have liked the public and mass media to have been a little more tolerant in supporting us because it is impossible to remove the garbage that had accumulated over the 50 years of the postwar period in six months or a year.

Q: Doesn't that just show that everyone feels more secure under an LDP-type political structure?

A: The Japanese want what they consider to be strong to remain strong. For example, like the Yomiuri Giants, Taiho (a yokozuna in sumo who dominated in the 1960s) and "tamagoyaki" (a rolled egg dish that was popular in the 1960s), the same thing holds for the LDP.

It is the same way of thinking as those who say professional baseball itself is uninteresting unless the Giants are strong.

Regardless of whether you like it or not, I believe the LDP holds a special place in the hearts of the Japanese. The LDP has emotions.

Emotions can end up linked to corruption, which is troublesome, but the LDP is warm, including its supporters.

It is similar to the feeling that some people hold that it is Dad who holds our home together, even if he causes problems by spending money in random ways and by getting drunk.

The LDP is strong because it combines a fatherly strength with a motherly warmth.

Upon reflection, the DPJ is logical, but also cold. Many members came up through labor unions or Matsushita Seikei Juku (the institute of government and management established by Panasonic Corp. founder Konosuke Matsushita) so they may indeed be strong in logic, but if they feel that the logic of the bureaucrats will prevail, they break easily and give in.

If the DPJ was warmer and softer, it might have bent (but not broken). That willow tree-like toughness of the LDP is a necessity in politics.

Q: The wavering by the Hatoyama administration led many people to understand the source of the LDP's strength. It also led people to realize that there was a deep-rooted fear in Japan of crossing the United States. What are your thoughts on that?

A: That is something that even I am unsure about.

We must think seriously about the course Japan should take if it depends too heavily for its national security on the United States, symbolized by the U.S. military-industrial complex, a nation that has failed in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

This nation will become much more stable if it shifts direction and becomes a Japan that can be respected within Asia, even if that shift in focus is gradual.

However, when I, as prime minister, came up with the proposal of an "East Asia community," there was immediate criticism: people said it would not be allowed because of concerns raised by the United States.

There is an illusion jointly shared by bureaucrats that we will be happy as long as we protect the Japan-U.S. alliance. It gets passed on to the mass media and helps to form public opinion.

It has become almost natural to always think of the intentions of the United States.

Regarding the (U.S. Marine Corps Air Station) Futenma relocation, we made no mistake in aiming at the very least to move it out of Okinawa Prefecture.

Because the LDP had been in control of government for so long, a certain frame of view had been placed on thinking about the relationship with the United States and the Okinawa issue.

In such a political environment, there was no way that an ideal for 10 years down the road could have emerged.

Q: However, in the end, isn't it true that people came to conclude that "Hatoyama failed" and that this new understanding of the relationship with the United States failed to take root?

A: I admit I was not up to the task. However, this is not an issue that should be concluded simply by saying "Hatoyama failed."

Because there has been no change whatsoever in the political environment from the LDP administrations of the past, it will be impossible to try and foster new sprouts.

We will likely need charismatic leadership if the political environment is to undergo thorough change. That would be the only way in which it might be possible to eliminate the inertia in thinking that everything will be OK as long as we depend on the United States and the LDP.

(This article is based on an interview by Junko Takahashi.)

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Yukio Hatoyama, former prime minister (Photo by Ken Aso)

Yukio Hatoyama, former prime minister (Photo by Ken Aso)

  • Yukio Hatoyama, former prime minister (Photo by Ken Aso)
  • Yukio Hatoyama (Photo by Ken Aso)
  • Yukio Hatoyama (Photo by Ken Aso)

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