Hatoyama brothers tied by fraying bonds
Sat, Feb 20, 2010
The Yomiuri Shimbun/Asia News Network

As siblings Yukio and Kunio Hatoyama make a most unusual pairing. Elder brother Yukio, 63--prime minister and president of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan--has been driven into a corner by his brother Kunio, 61, a former internal affairs and communications minister and a lawmaker of the opposition Liberal Democratic Party.

During a Feb. 12 House of Representatives Budget Committee session, Kaoru Yosano, an LDP lower house member and former finance minister, grilled the prime minister on his political donation scandal involving their mother, saying: "Well, it's probably about 1-1/2 years ago that I met with Kunio-san. He grumbled, saying, 'My elder brother visited our mother frequently to ask for money, saying he needed it to distribute it and funnel it to his sidekicks--and he received it.' Our mother phoned me asking 'if I'm doing the right thing.'"

The prime minister has denied his involvement in an alleged falsification of political donation reports and the receipt of a huge sum of money from his mother, maintaining that he "knew nothing whatsoever" of the matter.

If Kunio's words as quoted by Yosano prove to be correct, it means that the prime minister told a lie, thereby putting his political life at risk.

Kunio later offered a clarification, saying: "I never heard from our mother [in person] that my elder brother asked for money from her. I have no idea what's going on."

But the exchange recounted by Yosano at the Budget Committee session has been circulating in the political back rooms since the end of last year, accompanied by a rumor that "Kunio may make a bombshell statement [regarding his brother's funding scandal]."

Moreover, Yosano contacted Kunio to confirm that the story was true and obtained his approval on making it public prior to the recent Diet interpellations. Therefore, it is natural to think Kunio had a certain purpose in mind when he told the story to Yosano.

But Yukio and Kunio are not on bad terms--both talk about a "fraternity of brothers" whenever occasion arises. In April 2008, the brothers jointly opened a private school named Hatoyama Yuai-Jyuku.

In a ceremony held in March last year to mark the 50th anniversary of the death of their grandfather Ichiro Hatoyama, Yukio made a speech, saying, "Though belonging to different parties, my brother and I are on good terms at the end of the day." Echoing his view, Kunio stressed in his speech the bonds the two share as brothers.

Kunio's recent behavior threatens his brother's political future. His actions would appear to stem from an inner conflict.

Yasuko Hatoyama, the mother of the two politicians, who has been in the headlines recently, once said: "Since he was a kindergartner Kunio repeatedly said he'd become prime minister. [Overhearing this] Yukio frowned, saying his younger brother was 'talking big' again. I thought [Yukio] would become a scholar because he was absorbed only in his studies."

Following his strong ambition to become prime minister, Kunio entered the political world immediately after graduating from university. He has been elected to the lower house for 11 terms, during which time he held such cabinet posts as education and labor ministers.

Starting his political career belatedly in 1986, Yukio reached the pinnacle of political power when, in his eighth term in the lower house and without serving in any cabinet post, he became prime minister in September.

You would be wrong if you imagine Kunio is not jealous of his brother.

Kunio, who likes to hog the spotlight, is not satisfied with staying in his brother's shadow. He is waiting in the wings for a chance to take center stage and he may act someday to try to bring about a realignment of the key political parties because he is a live wire.

In the recent commotion involving him and his brother, Kunio was not able to quietly look on. It will be well worth paying attention to the speeches and actions of the brothers in the weeks and months to come.

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