(Reuters) - Japanese Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama said on Wednesday he and his powerful party No. 2, Ichiro Ozawa, would resign after a slide in the polls threatened their party’s chances in an election expected next month.
Calls had built up in Hatoyama’s Democratic Party for him to step down to revive the party’s fortunes before an election for the upper house of parliament expected on July 11 that it must win to smooth policymaking.
Voter perceptions that Hatoyama has mishandled a row over the relocation of a U.S. airbase and lacks the ability to make tough decisions have slashed his support ratings to around 20 percent from above 70 percent when he first took office last September.
The following are possible successors and what they could mean for policy:
Finance Minister Kan, who doubles as deputy prime minister, is widely tipped as the likely successor. He has long been a senior figure in the party, having worked with Hatoyama and kingpin Ichiro Ozawa as the Democrats’ top “troika.”
Kan has in the past pressed the central bank to do more to fight deflation and has sounded more positive than Hatoyama about raising the 5 percent sales tax in the future to fund bulging social welfare costs.
Kan, who made his name battling bureaucrats when he was health minister, lacks deep expertise on budget and tax issues but his clout within the party could put him in a better position than others in attracting party support for smoother policy-making. But his sometimes abrasive personality could make it difficult to forge party consensus, critics say.
Infrastructure and Transport Minister Maehara is a conservative security policy expert who has served as party leader and is hands-on with policies. Public approval for his stint in the cabinet has put him as number two on voters’ lists of popular politicians.
Although known more for his views on diplomacy and defence than the economy, Maehara has advocated streamlining public works projects and has studied at a school for political leaders that embraces free-market economic policies.
Maehara, who had to step down as party leader in 2006 for backing what turned out to be unproved allegations against the then ruling party, may lack clout to marshal the Democrats.
Foreign Minister Okada, the son of a supermarket magnate and who enjoys a clean image, also once served as party leader and is more open than Hatoyama to raising the 5 percent consumption tax.
When he ran against Hatoyama for party leader last year, Okada said he wanted to discuss how to tackle fiscal reform, including an increase in the consumption tax, while Hatoyama said the debate should be abandoned for now.
Okada is known for a stubborn streak and his strong interest in environment policies, and he crafted the party’s ambitious pledge for a 25 percent cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 2020 from 1990 levels.
Sengoku, the national strategy minister, has stressed the need for fiscal restraint and has openly called for debate on raising the consumption tax.
Despite being a former member of the now defunct Socialist Party, he supports free-market policies, having criticised recent proposals by the banking minister that could lead to the postal system’s banking service hurting business for regional lenders.
He has never held the party’s top post.
Internal Affairs Minister Haraguchi, a frequent guest on TV talk shows, has indicated that he is against debating an increase in the consumption tax before reviving the economy.
Haraguchi also studied at the same political leadership school as Maehara that embraces free-market policies and is known for his calls to shift policy responsibilities away from the central government and more to regions.
He lacks clout within the party, although he could be popular with voters for his fresh image. Like Sengoku, he has never held the party’s leadership post before.
Reporting by Chisa Fujioka; Editing by Chris Gallagher