Japan's centre-left Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama resigned on Wednesday, citing his failure to stay attuned to the people's wishes.
His political stock recently fell below the 20 per cent mark from a one-time high of 70 per cent in the opinion polls.
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) is set to elect on Friday a successor to the man who only last year broke the mould of one-party dominance in Japanese politics. Naoto Kan, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister, was the first to indicate he would seek the top job.
Mr. Hatoyama is the fourth successive Prime Minister to quit after a year or less at the helm. The other three belonged to the Liberal Democratic Party, in opposition since last September.
In a televised address to an urgent session of the general assembly of DPJ's Diet (Parliament) members in Tokyo on Wednesday, Mr. Hatoyama cited his inability to “communicate with the people” on two major issues: the United States military bases in Japan and the public perceptions about the role “money” played in domestic “politics.”
“The public has gradually refused to listen to me. It is a shame, and I am to blame for it,” he said. “For establishing a new and cleaner Democratic Party of Japan, I will resign,” said the yesteryear's charismatic leader who led his coalition to a landslide poll victory last August.
In deciding to step down now, he also asked DPJ Secretary General Ichiro Ozawa to follow suit. In recent months, both came under intense public scrutiny, each over a separate case of suspected malpractices in the mobilisation and accounting of political donations.
Mr. Hatoyama said last Sunday's exit of the Social Democratic Party from his coalition, over the U.S.-bases issue, was a key factor behind his latest move. Citing the newly-evolving security environment in Japan's neighbourhood, he said the U.S. was now allowed to relocate its Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa itself. However, he again apologised to the people of Okinawa and others in Japan for this “heavy burden”.
As prime-ministerial candidate in the August 2009 general election, Mr. Hatoyama had promised to try and reduce the overall U.S. military footprint across Japan. In particular, he pledged to get the Futenma base relocated outside Okinawa or even Japan altogether.
While the current political crisis in Tokyo punctuates Japan's unrelenting economic slump, officials say the new Japanese-American accord on the Futenma issue “remains valid” despite Mr. Hatoyama's bow from the centre-stage.