TOKYO Yukio Hatoyama stands a good chance of leading his party to victory over the long-ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in a Japanese election expected on August 30, but may lack the dynamism to generate much excitement.
The Democrats picked the bouffant-haired Hatoyama to replace his scandal-hit predecessor in a May leadership race, seeing him as best able to hold the sometimes fractious party together.
He was not, however, the most popular candidate with the public, who saw him as being under the shadow of previous party leader Ichiro Ozawa.
Hatoyama attracts more support than Prime Minister Taro Aso in opinion polls, but many voters say they see neither as suitable to be premier.
"His best quality is that he's not Aso," said Jeff Kingston, professor of Asian studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus. "He's a bit of a cipher. He's prominent, but he doesn't leave a strong impression."
Aso, the grandson of a former prime minister, has been criticized as out of touch with ordinary Japanese because of his wealthy background.
But Hatoyama, a Stanford University PhD once nicknamed "the alien" for his prominent eyes, hails from an even wealthier family of industrialists and politicians. His mother's father founded Bridgestone Corp, one of the world's largest tire makers.
When media reported in June that some donations to Hatoyama's political fund had been attributed to people who were dead, he denied any illegality, saying that aides had mislabeled cash from his own fortune that he had given them for safe keeping.
FRATERNITY AND LOVE
His party leadership campaign, under the slogan "Yuai," or "Fraternity," a concept he inherited from his own prime minister grandfather, sparked more puzzlement than interest among Japanese voters focused on the country's economic crisis.
"As a result of the long rule by the LDP, we depend on bureaucrats for policy-making while they fight for positions," Hatoyama said during the party leadership race.
"As a result, there have been policies that are out of touch with people and that lack love."
Son of a foreign minister, Hatoyama is the elder brother of Kunio Hatoyama, who stepped down as internal affairs minister in June, sparking rumors that the two could form a political alliance.
Critics have sometimes accused Hatoyama of being wishy-washy.
A question-and-answer section on his official website posed the query: "What would you most like to do right now?"
His answer: "Take a nap."
Hatoyama's platform calls for cutting wasteful expenditure by wresting spending power from bureaucrats, rebuilding faith in the creaking national pension scheme and offering financial support for farmers and families with children.
He has said he sees no need at this stage to discuss raising the 5 percent consumption tax to fund pension reform, a stance that puts him at odds with Aso. The prime minister has said the tax should be raised from 2011 to fund ballooning social security costs if the economy recovers.
Like his predecessor, Ichiro Ozawa, Hatoyama has criticized the ruling party for being too subservient to the United States in its security and diplomatic policies.
"I am worried about the current government because it does everything the United States says, even when such action is not recognized by the United Nations," Hatoyama said this year.
Hatoyama is married to a former musical actress and has a son. A founding member of the Democratic Party of Japan, he served as party leader from 1999-2002, when he resigned amid an uproar over whether the group was planning to merge with Ozawa's smaller Liberal Party. The merger went ahead in 2003.
(Reporting by Isabel Reynolds; Editing by Chris Gallagher)