Hatoyama, Yukio (Japan)
Yukio Hatoyama became prime minister in Sept. 2009, leading the Democratic Party of Japan into government for the first time. A centre-left politician, Hatoyama moved to strengthen Japan’s ties with other Asian countries, while signalling a more independent relationship with the United States. Domestically he favoured redirecting public money from large infrastructure projects into tax cuts, pensions and welfare.
Yukio Hatoyama was born on 11 Feb. 1947 in Bunkyo, Tokyo. His grandfather had been prime minister and his father served as foreign minister, while his mother is heir to the founder of the Bridgestone Corporation tyre company. Brought up and educated in Tokyo, Hatoyama graduated from Tokyo University in 1969 with a degree in engineering and continued his studies at Stanford University, USA, where he was awarded a PhD in engineering in 1976. Returning to Japan, he worked at Senshu University, becoming an assistant professor in 1981. In 1983 he left academia to become private secretary to his father, Iichiro Hatoyama, in the House of Representatives.
In 1986 he was elected to the House of Representatives as a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), representing his father’s former seat in Hokkaido. In 1990 he became parliamentary vice minister of the Hokkaido Development Agency. In June 1993 he left the LDP and co-founded New Party Sakigake which, as part of a coalition, defeated the LDP in general elections that year. He served as deputy chief cabinet secretary under Prime Minister Morihiro Hosokawa until the government fell in 1994. In 1996 Hatoyama co-founded the centrist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) with his brother Kunio Hatoyama and, 2 years later, steered the party into a merger with three other opposition parties, becoming deputy secretary general of the enlarged DPJ in April 1998 and its president in 1999.
In 2002, following confusion arising from rumours that he was planning a merger with Ichiro Ozawa’s Liberal Party, Hatoyama resigned from the leadership. The merger duly occurred in 2003. The DPJ campaigned for more open and accountable policy-making and advocated redirecting public money to improve welfare. It performed strongly in elections in 2003 and 2004, while Hatoyama served as shadow minister for internal affairs. In Sept. 2004 he became shadow minister for foreign affairs and secretary general of the DPJ. Having worked closely with Ozawa after the latter took over party leadership in 2006, Hatoyama regained the DPJ presidency in May 2009 when Ozawa resigned over financial scandals.
Hatoyama led the DPJ into the 2009 general election on a reformist platform. The party promised to address deepening economic problems by cutting funding for large infrastructure projects and boosting welfare provision. It advocated changing government procedures to shift policy-making powers from the civil service to ministers. It also argued for a more Asia-focused foreign policy and a re-evaluation of the relationship with the USA. In the general election of Aug. 2009 the DPJ decisively defeated the LDP, winning 308 seats to the LDP’s 119, bringing to an end half a century of almost unbroken LDP rule.
Hatoyama took office on 16 Sept. 2009. He made early moves to strengthen Japan’s relations with its Asian neighbours, initiating a series of visits. In Nov. 2009 he announced plans to boost the economy by developing a market in environmentally-friendly products and renewable power, and targeted 2020 for establishing a free trade zone in Asia. However, economic conditions hampered his attempts to introduce promised spending reforms. His popularity further suffered from rumours of financial impropriety surrounding his mother’s donations to the DPJ.
In May 2010 a political crisis emerged after renegotiations with the USA over the future of its military bases on the island of Okinawa proved fruitless thus breaking one of Hatoyama’s key electoral pledges. The SDP pulled out of the coalition government and on 1 June Hatoyama resigned. The deputy prime minister Naoto Kan was elected his successor by the Diet.