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Tuesday, Sept. 4, 2007
NEW JUSTICE MINISTER
Hatoyama a hawk on death penalty, illegal immigrants
By JUN HONGO
When he appointed Kunio Hatoyama as justice minister Aug. 27, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe requested that the veteran lawmaker help Japan regain its recognition as one of the world's safest countries.
Facing reporters later that day, Hatoyama was quick to display his determination to heed Abe's call, quickly supporting capital punishment and pointing to the threat of crimes committed by foreigners.
"The death penalty embodies preventive functions against crimes. I disagree with abolishing the system," the 58-year-old stated in his first news conference at the Justice Ministry. "Cutting the number of illegal immigrants in half is also a goal for this administration. We must tighten up immigration management to achieve that," he said, referring to the growing perception that more crimes are being committed by foreign nationals.
Hatoyama, a conservative hawk who makes frequent visits to Yasukuni Shrine, hails from a prominent political family. His grandfather, Ichiro, was a prime minister, and his father, Iichiro, a foreign minister. Hatoyama's older brother, Yukio, is secretary general of the Democratic Party of Japan.
The Tokyo native began his political career as a secretary to his father and the late Prime Minister Kakuei Tanaka before winning a seat in the 1976 Lower House election.
Hatoyama later went through a period of turbulence, leaving the Liberal Democratic Party in 1993 and helping form the DPJ in 1996, only to resign as a lawmaker three years later and run for Tokyo governor in 1999. When that failed, he ran on the LDP ticket and won a Lower House seat in 2000.
Although Hatoyama has served as both education and labor minister, the tasks he faces at the Justice Ministry require trickier decision-making, especially authorizing hangings. But he pledged to make advancements during his stint in office.
In an interview Friday, he said the death-row population, reduced to 103 after Hatoyama's predecessor, Jinen Nagase, sent three to the gallows last month, is still "a large number."
"One must be extra careful in approving death penalties because it is about ending human life," Hatoyama said, but added that failure to authorize capital punishment runs against the nature of the legal system.
"Executions should be carried out aptly" under the Constitution, he said.
Regarding long-term policies for accepting overseas workers, Hatoyama said the government could add more job categories for which foreign nationals with skills and expertise can apply.
But he disagreed with some of Nagase's proposals to open the market and accept manual laborers and unskilled workers.
"Considering Japan's culture, I must question whether that is a good idea," Hatoyama said. "This may not be the right thing to say, but that could provoke an increase in crimes by foreign nationals."
Asked if he intends to reject Nagase's proposal, Hatoyama simply stated, "I am the justice minister (now)."
A close friend to LDP Secretary General Taro Aso, Hatoyama promised not only to "become a good justice minister" but also support Abe and his Cabinet in the wake of the LDP-New Komeito ruling bloc's loss of its majority in the July Upper House election.
"This Cabinet is facing a difficult time, but I believe it's healthy for Cabinet members to feel pressure and tension," he said. "I will make use of my connection with my brother if that is required anytime in the future."