Eight months ago, Japan's Yukio Hatoyama was a star. His leftist Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) had stormed to electoral victory, ousting a conservative party that had governed almost uninterrupted since the 1950s. Yesterday, he resigned after a massive collapse in popularity.
It's true that Japanese prime ministers tend to have short tenures and resign when they lose public or party confidence. (In fact, Hatoyama is the fourth Prime Minister to resign in the last four years.) What is remarkable, however, is just how quickly the DPJ's popularity collapsed after such a historic victory.
The media is reporting that this resignation was precipitated by Hatoyama's broken campaign promise to remove the U.S. air base at Futenma. This is true in the sense that the Futenma issue caused the Social Democratic Party to leave Hatoyama's coalition and caused a public outcry. But in reality, it was merely the final straw in a long line of failures. Long before the Futenma issue blew up, the government's approval ratings were in free fall over corruption in the DPJ and massive increases in government "stimulus" spending. These issue had been eating away at Hatoyama's popularity for months, and the Futenma issue merely broke the camel's back.
Perhaps the most worrisome part here is that both of Japan's major political parties have suffered a massive loss of public trust. While the DPJ is losing popularity, there has not been a corresponding rise in support for the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), which is the party that has historically governed the country. Recent polls show half the electorate rejecting both the DPJ and LDP (and all other parties) -- and that was before the current Futenma crisis. This leaves a big opening for smaller, more extreme parties from the far left (the Social Democratic Party) and far right (the People's New Party), though there is a more sensible but less plausible "Your Party" that stands in opposition to government largesse.