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2009年6月16日 (火)


--The Asahi Shimbun, June 13(IHT/Asahi: June 16,2009)
EDITORIAL: Hatoyama's resignation

Kunio Hatoyama resigned Friday as minister of internal affairs and communications, effectively ending a high-profile dispute over the way the nation's postal services are run. Prime Minister Taro Aso, overriding Hatoyama's objections, decided to retain Yoshifumi Nishikawa as president of Japan Post Holdings Co. As a result, Hatoyama, who had the ministerial authority to approve key management decisions at the government-owned company, submitted his resignation.

Hatoyama had been bitterly opposed to Nishikawa's reappointment. Six months have passed since Hatoyama started taking potshots at Nishikawa's managerial abilities. Even after Japan Post formally decided to retain Nishikawa as president in accordance with its internal procedures, Hatoyama kept ratcheting up the rhetoric.
Hatoyama's campaign against Nishikawa's reappointment took a bizarre turn, prompting speculation that he intended to form an alliance with the main opposition Minshuto (Democratic Party of Japan), which is led by his elder brother, Yukio.

This was not the first time that Aso had behaved indecisively in the face of a problem rapidly escalating in seriousness.

Hatoyama is the third member of the Aso Cabinet to quit. Aso similarly dithered and waffled on the other two occasions, one of which involved Nariaki Nakayama, then minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism. The other involved Shoichi Nakagawa, who stepped down as finance minister after he appeared drunk at a news conference in Rome after a Group of Seven meeting.

Hatoyama was a close ally of Aso, having served as campaign chief during Aso's three attempts to secure the presidency of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party. As Aso failed to get Hatoyama to comply with his wishes, new doubts have arisen about the prime minister's already weakened leadership.

Aso has managed to keep his government afloat despite his weak power base within the LDP. This is due to the majority the party has in the Lower House following the election four years ago, which served as a virtual referendum on then Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's initiative to privatize postal services. Aso made a big mistake when he underestimated the seriousness of the rift within the party over the issue of postal privatization.

In February, Aso disclosed that he had never been in favor of the privatization policy and suggested a possible change in the current structure of four companies operating under Japan Post Holdings. Aso apparently intended to shift the government's policy away from Koizumi's reform agenda, which has been under growing criticism from party members and the public since he came to power last September.

This explains his behavior when Hatoyama moved to block a Japan Post plan to sell off its Kanpo no Yado inns. Aso did nothing to stop it. He also indicated his willingness to go along with growing calls to reconsider postal privatization. But Hatoyama's attempt to replace Nishikawa, who is seen by proponents of postal privatization as a "symbol" of their cause, has proved to be a different story. Hatoyama's stance effectively required Aso to make clear whether he will push forward or roll back the process of privatization. By the same token, it forced him to make clear whether he will continue or undo Koizumi's reform policies.

That was probably a question Aso didn't want to face since he apparently hoped to lead the party into the upcoming Lower House election without losing the support of either side of the debate.

Indeed, Japan Post under Nishikawa's tenure has been hit by scandals. Hatoyama was clearly offended by the company's dubious procedures to select the purchaser of its Kanpo no Yado inns and the abuse of a special postage discount system. Still, only one year and eight months have passed since the privatization process started. If Aso decided that Nishikawa was the best hope for reforming the deep-seated bureaucratic culture at the former public entity, it should be described as a reasonable decision.

But there is no denying that the imbroglio has almost fatally weakened support for Aso's leadership among party members on both sides of the debate. Calls may grow within the ruling party for a further postponement of a decision to dissolve the Lower House for a snap election. Some party members may start clamoring for a Cabinet reshuffle or even for Aso's replacement.

Voters want a government led by a trustworthy prime minister who can provide effective leadership. The last thing they want to see is an incompetent leader holding onto power amid serious crises confronting both Japan and the rest of the world.


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