Japan's Social Democratic Party (SDP), today, maintained its threat to leave Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's coalition government, in a row over a US military base on Okinawa.
The coalition appeared to face a break-up after Hatoyama sacked his consumer affairs minister, Mizuho Fukushima, who was dismissed for opposing his decision to keep the base on the southern Japanese island. Seiji Mataichi, the SDP's deputy chief, told a TV programme Saturday: "It is natural for us to leave the coalition," echoing a warning made by Fukushima after her dismissal on Friday.
Asked by reporters if she now planned to withdraw from the government, Fukushima, who is also the head of the pacifist SDP, had said: "Dismissing me means discarding the SDP." Hatoyama said he would like to keep the SDP in the coalition, but Fukushima, who has long sided with the anti-base movement, said her party would make "a grave determination" at a meeting on Sunday.
If it does decide to leave, the SDP's departure will weaken Hatoyama's coalition, which dominates the lower house but has barely maintained its majority in the upper house. Tokyo and Washington said, in a joint statement this week, that the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma would be moved, as first agreed in 2006, from a crowded city area to the coastal Henoko region of the island. The base has long angered locals because of aircraft noise, pollution, the risk of crashes and tension with American service personnel, especially after the 1995 rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen.
The row over the Futenma base has dealt a blow to Hatoyama, who had promised voters ahead of the general elections last August, that he would set aside the 2006 relocation agreement. His support has plunged to around 20 percent amid the crisis and ahead of upper house elections slated for July.
Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan formed its coalition in September with the SDP and the smaller People's New Party after they ousted conservatives in August. On Friday, Hatoyama apologised to people for his failure to keep his promise over the Okinawa base, but Japanese dailies railed against his lack of leadership over the issue.
"Prime Minister Hatoyama's qualification has been seriously questioned," the mass-circulation Yomiuri Shimbun said in an editorial. "He just apologises but never takes responsibility. This seems to be the nature of Prime Minister Hatoyama." The conservative Sankei Shimbun daily said: "We cannot help but say that he is not qualified as the nation's supreme leader. The 'loopy' prime minister, who is losing national interest, should resign as soon as possible." Shigeru Ishiba, a senior figure of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party, also demanded his resignation, saying: "He is irresponsible with no philosophy. We should not allow him to continue his job."