May 16, 2009 / 6:28 AM / 11 years ago

Hatoyama to lead Japan opposition back to future

TOKYO (Reuters) - The new leader of Japan’s main opposition Democratic Party, a fourth-generation lawmaker and close ally of his predecessor, may face an uphill battle to convince voters he is a fresh alternative in a looming election.

Seen as a skilled political manager, Yukio Hatoyama’s backers argued he was the best bet to hold the sometimes fractious party together ahead of a poll that must be held by October.

But the 62-year-old Hatoyama’s image could be tarnished by suspicion he is under the sway of Ichiro Ozawa, who quit as party leader over a fundraising scandal to try to improve the Democrats’ chances in a general election that must be held by October.

“The initial media reaction will be: ‘It’s an Ozawa set-up,’” said Gerald Curtis, an expert on Japanese politics at Columbia University in the United States.

“There will be a lot of Hatoyama bashing, but over the next couple of months he might make some headway.”

Prime Minister Taro Aso, 68, the grandson of a prime minister, has been criticized as being out of touch with ordinary Japanese because of his wealthy background.

But Hatoyama, nicknamed “the alien” for his prominent eyes, also hails from a tribe of rich industrialists and politicians.

Grandson of a premier and son of a foreign minister, Hatoyama is the elder brother of Internal Affairs Minister Kunio Hatoyama. His other grandfather founded tire-maker Bridgestone Corp.


Critics have sometimes accused him of being wishy-washy.

A question-and-answer section on his official website poses the query: “What would you most like to do right now?”

The answer: “Have 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.

Hatoyama said this week he saw 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, the new opposition leader 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 week.

Hatoyama is married to a former musical actress and has a son. One of the founding members of the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), he served as party leader from 1999-2002, when he resigned amid uproar over whether the group was planning to merge with a Ozawa’s smaller Liberal Party. The merger went ahead in 2003.

Additional reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Alex Richardson

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