Japan’s farm minister pledges to stick to reform after election

TOKYO, Oct. 25 — Japan’s Agriculture Minister Ken Saito has said he will keep advancing farm reforms “with humbleness,” following Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s recent landslide election victory.

The governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito clinched a sweeping win in a national election on Oct. 22, with a two-thirds majority in the lower house of the parliament.

“During the campaign, I received a lot of criticism about our LDP,” Saito confessed at a press conference on Oct. 24.

When he visited rural areas during the campaign, Saito said, farmers raised concerns about the Abe administration’s plan to abolish in 2018 the decades-old rice support program limiting paddy usage to keep the prices high.

The Abe plan aims to stir competition among domestic rice growers.

Saito insisted that more farmers have shown understanding of the government’s intention of not intervening in the market.

Asked what the implication would be as former agriculture ministers, including Koya Nishikawa and Yuji Yamamoto, lost in the Oct. 22 election, Saito said: “I don’t see this phenomenon as a political milestone (or an ultimate act of rural voter anger).”

Before the election, Nishikawa was the chairman of LDP’s research commission on agriculture and food strategy, after stepping down as agriculture minister in 2015.

Nishikawa was once described as Japan’s most influential politician behind the scenes in agriculture, due to the power of the group known as the LDP’s “farm tribe” and its former vote-gathering ability.

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