Ex-PM Hatoyama, who led Democrats to power, to retire

TOKYO Wed Nov 21, 2012 5:25am EST

Japan's former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Tokyo August 21, 2012. REUTERS/Yuriko Nakao

Japan's former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama speaks during an interview with Reuters at his office in Tokyo August 21, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Yuriko Nakao

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Former Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, 65, who led his Democratic Party to a historic election win three years ago, will retire from politics and not contest the December 16 election, after refusing to sign off on the party's campaign platform.

Japan's opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is tipped to finish first in the parliamentary election, well ahead of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) led by current Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Critics blamed the often indecisive Hatoyama for wasting Democratic Party political capital during his time in office. Three years and three prime ministers later, opinion polls show disappointed voters are likely to give the LDP the biggest number of seats in parliament's lower house.

"Please work hard to prevent a return to old-style politics and move forward with what we tried to accomplish with the change of government," Kyodo news agency quoted Hatoyama as telling Noda on Wednesday, when he informed the prime minister he was retiring because he could not back the party's platform.

Despite pledging to resign his seat in parliament when he quit the top post in 2010, Hatoyama stayed on, plaguing his two successors with public criticism, including over what became Noda's signature policy of doubling the sales tax to 10 percent by 2015 to curb the nation's huge public debt.

Hatoyama and others inside the party and out said the tax hike violated the Democrats' 2009 platform, and charged that the party had abandoned the battle against vested interests that won voters' backing.

"To the same extent that the people were wildly enthusiastic, they are now disappointed. The reason is that the party has switched from fighting vested interests to standing on the side of those vested interests," Hatoyama told Reuters in an interview in August.

Noda is insisting that candidates for the December election sign a document pledging to support the party's policies to try to avoid the feuds over policy that split the party in the past and led to dozens of defections.

Hatoyama, the scion of a wealthy political family dubbed a "space alien" for his sometimes otherworldly views, quit as premier in 2010 after less than a year in office. His support ratings plunged after he raised, then dashed, local hopes that a U.S. Marine airbase could be moved off Okinawa island, unhappy host to about half the 49,000 U.S. forces in Japan.

(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Michael Perry)

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