Who’s on deck in Tokyo?

Jockeying for Yukio Hatoyama’s post has begun in Japan, hours after the country’s prime minister announced his resignation over failures to move the U.S. Marine base at Okinawa to a less obtrusive part of the island. With Hatoyama’s departure — and general elections on the horizon — the Democratic Party of Japan is racing against ...

Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images
Kiyoshi Ota/Getty Images

Jockeying for Yukio Hatoyama's post has begun in Japan, hours after the country's prime minister announced his resignation over failures to move the U.S. Marine base at Okinawa to a less obtrusive part of the island. With Hatoyama's departure — and general elections on the horizon — the Democratic Party of Japan is racing against time to replace its leader. The horserace brings in three principal contenders:

Naoto Kan holds the high ground as Japan's current finance minister. At 63, Kan has been a recent advocate for fiscal discipline and signaled in February that he wants to raise taxes. Japan's economic troubles — marked by rising unemployment and a falling yen — puts Kan in a good position to leverage his considerable experience. But politically, Kan's seniority and proximity to Hatoyama as deputy prime minister leave him little room to maneuver. He told reporters today that his main objective is to "take over the job and make sure it gets done." Translation? I'm like the last guy, but better.

Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Meihara isn't as handy as an economist but is more of an expert when it comes to diplomacy and security. He's riding a wave of enthusiasm at the moment, with a recent straw poll giving him a five-percent lead over the second-place finisher, Kan. Voters reportedly like Meihara for his "strength and decisiveness" — qualities that are sure to be important in Japan's next encounter with the United States. If anyone on the roster is prepared to play hardball with Washington — and after Hatoyama got whipped at the bargaining table, many of them must be — it's this guy.

Jockeying for Yukio Hatoyama’s post has begun in Japan, hours after the country’s prime minister announced his resignation over failures to move the U.S. Marine base at Okinawa to a less obtrusive part of the island. With Hatoyama’s departure — and general elections on the horizon — the Democratic Party of Japan is racing against time to replace its leader. The horserace brings in three principal contenders:

Naoto Kan holds the high ground as Japan’s current finance minister. At 63, Kan has been a recent advocate for fiscal discipline and signaled in February that he wants to raise taxes. Japan’s economic troubles — marked by rising unemployment and a falling yen — puts Kan in a good position to leverage his considerable experience. But politically, Kan’s seniority and proximity to Hatoyama as deputy prime minister leave him little room to maneuver. He told reporters today that his main objective is to "take over the job and make sure it gets done." Translation? I’m like the last guy, but better.

Japanese Transport Minister Seiji Meihara isn’t as handy as an economist but is more of an expert when it comes to diplomacy and security. He’s riding a wave of enthusiasm at the moment, with a recent straw poll giving him a five-percent lead over the second-place finisher, Kan. Voters reportedly like Meihara for his "strength and decisiveness" — qualities that are sure to be important in Japan’s next encounter with the United States. If anyone on the roster is prepared to play hardball with Washington — and after Hatoyama got whipped at the bargaining table, many of them must be — it’s this guy.

Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada presents an intruiging third choice. He’s got a major advantage over the fringe candidates who have never held a top post, but he isn’t so close to Hatoyama that he can’t chart a new course for Japan. Clear expressions of commitment to the U.S.-Japanese alliance and a forward-looking perspective on Asia at large give Okada some goodwill at the global level. His street cred is bolstered by additional pledges of support for environmental policy. In 2008, Okada called for cutting Japan’s greenhouse gas emissions to 75 percent of 1990 levels by 2020 — a plan that Hatoyama endorsed last September. That said, with the economy in the tank, climate change is likely to be a non-starter in 2010.

Brian Fung is an editorial researcher at FP.

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