SDP to exit Hatoyama's ruling coalition over U.S. base row

May 31, 2010 1:38 pm 

TOKYO, May 31 — The Social Democratic Party decided on Sunday to leave Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's tripartite ruling coalition, opposing an agreement between Japan and the United States to relocate a key U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture.

The decision by the small party came after Hatoyama dismissed SDP leader Mizuho Fukushima Friday from the post of consumer affairs minister, as she refused to sign a Cabinet resolution on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station, insisting it should be moved out of the island prefecture or Japan.

The departure of the SDP may add to pressure for Hatoyama to step down ahead of the House of Councillors election expected to be held in July. His Cabinet has been seeing its support rate nosedive, to 19.1 percent in the latest Kyodo News poll, over such issues as scandals involving political funds for Hatoyama and other party members as well as the government's uphill battle to nurture Japan's nascent economic recovery.

"If the SDP plays a role in building a new base in Okinawa, we would betray people's trust," Fukushima told reporters Sunday after the party held a meeting of its local chapter chiefs in Tokyo. She also said those regional heads have praised her decision not to stay in the Cabinet post.

"The SDP will make full efforts to establish a new style of politics," the head of the pacifist party added.

The SDP said Kiyomi Tsujimoto, one of its lawmakers and a senior vice minister of land, infrastructure, transport and tourism, will also withdraw from the Cabinet.

"It is really disappointing," Tsujimoto said of the party's exit from the coalition. But she indicated it is impossible for the SDP to make a concession on the base issue.

The party is now considering whether it should maintain cooperation with Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan in elections, as the upper house election draws near, in such areas as preventing the overlapping of their candidates in some constituencies.

Some SDP members said cooperation in elections could be maintained even after the party's departure from the ruling coalition, if the two parties can pursue the same goals in some policies.

Hatoyama has said he hopes that the SDP will remain in the coalition. The People's New Party, another small coalition partner, has said it will keep cooperating with Hatoyama.

Fukushima has criticized Hatoyama for failing to make good on his earlier pledge to move the Futenma facility "at least" outside the prefecture and soften burdens on people in Okinawa, which hosts the large part of U.S. forces in Japan.

While refusing to answer the question of whether Hatoyama should resign, Fukushima said on a TV program after the party made the decision that she wants the prime minister to be a lawmaker who can "take responsibility for his own words."

The SDP, which only has a total of 12 seats in the Diet houses, may aim to win more votes in the upcoming election by leaving the coalition and giving the impression to the public that it will not budge on policies, say political analysts.

The Japanese and U.S. governments said in a joint statement Friday that they will move the Marine base from the densely populated Ginowan to the Henoko coastal area further north in Okinawa. The SDP opposes the plan, saying it would considerably damage the environment in the coastal area.

The latest Kyodo News poll, conducted Saturday and Sunday, also showed that 51.2 percent said Hatoyama should resign as prime minister as he failed to resolve the base row in a way he had promised to.

Hatoyama has said he would resolve the dispute by the end of May by coming up with a relocation plan that can win approval from people in Okinawa, the DPJ's coalition partners and the United States. But the government announced the relocation policy on Friday after striking a deal only with Washington. (PNA/Kyodo)



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