It appears that the inevitable has happened: NHK reports that Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio has informed the DPJ leadership that he intends to step down.
Hatoyama, of course, has no one to blame but himself. In the nine months since he took office, he has failed as a manager of his cabinet, as the head of the DPJ, and as the leader of his country. Unable to make up his mind, he groped from blunder to blunder, before finally making a controversial decision on Futenma without doing any of the work to convince a skeptical public of its merits.
The good news is that his successor should, to a certain extent, have an opportunity to press the reset button, seeing just how much dissatisfaction with the prime minister was behind growing dissatisfaction with the DPJ. The bad news is that Hatoyama will leave his successor the poison pill of the latest agreement over Futenma, which the public overwhelmingly opposes and which appears to be more or less unimplementable, and with an uphill battle for the House of Councillors next month. And that’s without mentioning lingering problems concerning the long-term future of the Japanese economy.
And so the US gets its wish: the “loopy” Hatoyama is gone, having overstayed his welcome and squandered whatever goodwill last year’s election earned him. His successor — whoever he is (given that in all likelihood the DPJ will plan for a smooth transition to Kan or Okada) — will have to set to work immediately fixing the DPJ’s standing with the public, starting with yet another attempt to fix Futenma in a way that satisfies Okinawans and the general public. He’ll also have to do what Hatoyama failed to do: make Ozawa serve the prime minister, another failure that ultimately doomed Hatoyama. The US, meanwhile, would be wise to give the new prime minister plenty of space this time around.