Japanese prime ministers come and go so quickly these days, but the resignation of Yukio Hatoyama will be a cause of unusual disappointment.
With a support rating of less than 20 per cent, and elections in July to the country’s upper house, it seems inevitable that he will resign in the next two months and become the fourth consecutive Japanese prime minister to quit after a year or less in office. But he will leave behind a stronger sense of hollowness and anti-climax than any of his predecessors.
Mr Hatoyama made history last August with a crushing election victory over the Liberal Democratic Party after 54 years of virtually unbroken conservative rule.
He promised big changes – in the power of the mighty Japanese bureaucracy, in the provisions of the welfare state, and in Japan’s relations with the United States.
His fall from power, when it comes, will be a just humiliation for a dithering and incompetent leader whose biggest problems were of his own making. But it also illustrates something else – the remarkable limits imposed on Japanese democracy by its 50-year-old alliance with the United States.
For many Japanese, one of the most striking things about Mr Hatoyama was his boldly sceptical approach to the institution which many people thought of as the foundation of Japan’s post-war success: the US-Japan alliance.