In the race to be Japan’s next Prime Minister, rural revitalization strategies are the focus

In Japan, the need for economic revitalization in rural regions has reached crisis proportions, so voters are demanding more than empty promises: they want to know exactly what each candidate’s strategy will be if elected.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) will hold its presidential election in September of 2018. Japan’s parliamentary Cabinet system dictates that the head of the LDP—which controls a majority of seats in both chambers of the Diet—will be elected prime minister.

Shinzō Abe. Offciial photo.

Current Prime Minister Shinzō Abe, the current LDP president, is favored to win a landslide victory over Shigeru Ishiba. Ishiba is in the unique position of having actually held the position of state minister for regional revitalization from 2014 to 2016. This has made the campaign rhetoric more detailed than is usual.

Virtually all politicians promise economic growth during their campaigns. Few deliver, and when they do, that growth usually has nothing to do with their actions. In fact, it often comes despite their actions. Few politicians actually understand much, if anything, about the revitalization process, so their campaign promises are usually quite vague as to how they will accomplish them.

So, even if the incumbent wins, the election dialog will have been elevated by the presence of a candidate possessing an actual working knowledge of the subject matter. This is refreshing, considering the situation in the U.S., which is attempting to stimulate the economy with blunt, self-destructive tools like tariffs and federal subsidies for obsolete energy sources.

2007 Defense Department photo of Shigeru Ishiba by Cherie A. Thurlb.

Shigeru Ishiba is also Japan’s former Defense Minister, as well as former Farm Minister, so he enjoys nationwide popularity in the farmings regions, but not so much among the urban elite. He says that he would enact three laws to reinvigorate rural areas if he is elected prime minister.

The three laws would 1) enhance the productivity of service industries, 2) promote the migration of urban residents to rural areas, and 3) reform local government systems by transferring some of the administrative work to local non-profit organizations and to agricultural cooperatives.

Ishiba also criticized Abe’s rural revitalization strategy, which he characterizes as focusing on revitalizing metropolitan areas, and then hoping that there’s a trickle-down economic benefit to the rural areas.

It is country areas that have potential for growth,” said Ishiba. “In the past, public works and relocation of firms (to the countryside) brought jobs and income to rural areas. But that strategy won’t work any more,” he added. He also pledged to promote the relocation of additional central government ministries from Tokyo to more-rural areas.

Ishiba has repeatedly called for revitalization policy debates with Abe ahead of the election. Abe has so far avoided such a debate.

Photo via Adobe Stock.

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