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Hatoyama Says Will Remain Japan Premier as Popularity Plunges

Japan's prime minister Yukio Hatoyama
Japan's prime minister Yukio Hatoyama pauses during a news conference at the prime minister's official residence in Tokyo. Photographer: Tomohiro Ohsumi/Bloomberg

Japan’s Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said he intends to remain in his post after polls showed his popularity falling to new lows less than two months before parliamentary elections.

“I intend to work hard for the people of this country,” Hatoyama said at his office in Tokyo after meeting with Ichiro Ozawa, the No. 2 official in his Democratic Party of Japan. “I understand the situation is tough.” Asked if he would continue as premier, Hatoyama replied: “Of course.”

The Social Democratic Party yesterday left the government after Hatoyama fired leader Mizuho Fukushima from the Cabinet for refusing to endorse his agreement with the U.S. to relocate a Marine base within Okinawa. The departure cuts the Democratic Party of Japan-led coalition’s majority in the upper house ahead of elections for half the chamber’s seats set for July.

Hatoyama’s popularity has plunged since the DPJ’s landslide August victory in the more powerful lower house, with voters disenchanted over campaign finance scandals and his vacillating over where to move the base. Three polls released today showed his approval rating at or below 20 percent and six in 10 voters think he should quit. The yen fell on the political turmoil.

“This is a blow but it may be temporary because there’s another month until the race starts,” said Hirotada Asakawa, a Tokyo-based independent political commentator. “It’s already expected that the DPJ cannot gain a majority and the party will need a new coalition framework.”

Voter Discontent

Hatoyama’s favorability rating fell to 19 percent from 24 percent three weeks ago, while his disapproval rating was at 75 percent, the Yomiuri newspaper said today. The Asahi newspaper said his approval rating was at 17 percent, while the Mainichi newspaper put it at 20 percent. Almost 60 percent think he should quit over the base issue, the Yomiuri and Mainichi said.

None of the polls, all of which were taken over the weekend, gave a margin of error.

“I understand I’ve caused trouble” within the party, Hatoyama told reporters.

The yen declined to 91.48 per dollar as of 6:17 p.m. in Tokyo from 91.06 in New York on May 28. The Japanese currency also slid to 112.54 per euro from 111.77.

Half of the 242 upper-house seats are at stake in the July balloting. The DPJ and its other junior partner, the People’s New Party, have 122 legislators, and losing that majority could slow Hatoyama’s legislative goals of increasing social welfare spending while aiming to cut the world’s largest public debt.

The U.S. and Japan agreed on May 28 to most parts of an existing plan to relocate the Futenma Marine Air Base on the island to the Henoko coastal area. Hatoyama has apologized for breaking a campaign pledge to transfer the facility off of Okinawa. The island, 950 miles (1,530 kilometers) south of Tokyo, houses 75 percent of the American bases and more than half of the 50,000 U.S. troops stationed in Japan to provide for the country’s defense under a 50-year-old security treaty.

The U.S. pushed Japan to uphold a 2006 agreement to move Futenma within Okinawa by 2014, as part of a $10.3 billion plan that would also transfer 8,000 Marines to Guam. The people of Okinawa want it moved elsewhere, citing increased crime, pollution and noise.

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