TOKYO — Japan's small socialist party on Sunday walked out of the ruling coalition in a row over a US military base in Okinawa, heaping pressure on embattled Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama ahead of July elections.
The move came after Hatoyama on Friday dismissed Social Democratic Party (SDP) leader Mizuho Fukushima as his consumer affairs minister.
Fukushima had denounced Hatoyama's decision to retain the Marine base despite a pre-election promise by the centre-left prime minister to move it off Okinawa island, where the US military presence is hugely unpopular.
"We decided to leave the government at an executive meeting," Fukushima told a televised news conference. "Everybody told me it was good that I have stuck to my beliefs," she said.
The SDP has only minimal representation in parliament, with seven seats in the lower house and five seats in the upper chamber.
But Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), which dominates the lower house, needs the help of other parties to secure a majority in the upper house.
The SDP's departure could further damage Hatoyama's standing as his approval ratings hover at all-time lows of around 20 percent before the July elections, in which half of the 242 upper house seats will be contested.
Hatoyama has been roundly assailed for indecisive leadership over Okinawa and the enfeebled economy, and also faces attacks over party political funding scandals.
Pressure is reportedly growing within the DPJ for Hatoyama to stand down, but he insists he is going nowhere.
"I want to gain the people's understanding over my determination to work in this position," he told Japanese media late Saturday as he attended a summit with the president of South Korea and the Chinese premier.
Hatoyama formed a coalition with the SDP and the People's New Party after the DPJ ended half a century of almost unbroken conservative rule in elections last August.
Hatoyama promised to relocate the US Marine Corps Futenma air station off Okinawa entirely, but the United States insisted that both sides stick to a 2006 deal to keep the base on the southern island.
After months of tension, Tokyo and Washington said in a joint statement last week the base would be moved, as first agreed in 2006, from a crowded urban area to a coastal region of Okinawa.
On Friday, Hatoyama publicly apologised for his U-turn on the base but Japanese dailies railed against his lack of leadership.
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