Director General of Editorial Department, Hidenori Uchida
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party won an overwhelming victory in the Lower House election, but the party should not take this as public support for agricultural policies, which are part of the Abenomics economic reform agenda touted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as a focus of campaign pledges.
Debates on agricultural policies were low-keyed in the election campaigns. The LDP apparently avoided focusing on agricultural co-operatives reform and the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade talks, both of which are included in the government’s “third arrow” of Abenomics. Although they are issues which would influence the future of agriculture and rural villages, voters had no information for making decisions. Voters did not give free rein, but instead kept a tight rein on the Abe administration. From now on, the LDP must listen carefully to the voices of farmers and conduct thorough discussions on the issues. Farmers should also speak up.
Regarding agricultural co-operatives reform, the LDP promised in campaign pledges to “deepen discussions and make a steady progress” based on agreements made by the ruling coalition. But the agreement put off making a decision on important issues such as whether to give legal authority to central and prefectural unions of agricultural co-operatives. The party’s campaign pledges do not address any policies on the issue either.
The party’s campaign pledges remain ambiguous also on the TPP negotiations, only mentioning that “the party will seek the best way which meets the national interests, based on the resolutions made by the party and the Diet.” It is not clear what and whose interests they are seeking, and what kind of agreement they are aiming at as the “best way.”
Abe seldom touched upon agricultural co-operatives reform and the TPP talks even when he was making campaign speeches in agricultural regions.
The two agriculture-related issues will come to a critical stage early next year, but in the elections, the party failed to present its policies on the issues to face voters’ verdict. It is indispensable for the party to communicate with farmers in compiling specific policies.
In putting together agricultural policies, Abe respected the government’s advisory panels, such as the Industrial Competitiveness Council and the Regulatory Reform Council, led by representatives of business circles and neoliberal scholars, and attached little importance on discussions within the party or the Diet. This is true not only for agricultural policies but for other policies, such as allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.
However, people voted to elect politicians who can reflect their voices in national policymaking, and debates within the ruling party and the Diet are the opportunities to get the voices heard. It is the lawmakers’ responsibility to listen to the people and respond to their needs and suggestions.
The Democratic Party of Japan, the largest opposition party, could not present a strong enough foothold to counter the ruling bloc, as they also did not touch upon agricultural co-operatives reform in their campaign pledges. That is why they failed to obtain a high number of votes in rural regions. Opposition parties must also listen to the people’s voices as a foundation for creating their policies.
We people also have the right and responsibility to raise our voices on policy issues in order to support our lives and assure a healthy democracy.
Who should be responsible for putting together the voices of each and every farmer and take them to national policymakers? The Japan Agricultural Co-operatives (JA) group must be aware that they are the one to assume the role and bear the task without fear.
(Dec. 15, 2014)