The Liberal Democratic Party held its annual convention Sunday in Tokyo, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe touting the success of his economic and fiscal rhetoric and pledging to protect the farm industry throughout the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade talks.
“The (grim) mood that covered all of Japan has lifted, and the economy is undoubtedly on a steady recovery path,” the nationalist LDP chief told his party at a hotel.
He then asked the 3,500-strong gathering, mainly members of local chapters and their supporters, to stay on their toes while preparing for the House of Councilors election in July, regardless of the overwhelming victory in December’s Lower House poll.
“The people just judged that (the LDP) is a little better than the Democratic Party of Japan,” Abe said in his speech, referring to his party’s ouster of the DPJ government in the Dec. 16 race. “We must not lose the Upper House election. We need to restore Japan’s self-respect.”
LDP Secretary General Shigeru Ishiba echoed Abe, urging those gathered not to ease up and to avoid any hint of complacency or arrogance.
“We need to remain modest and considerate despite approval rates in excess of 70 percent” for Abe’s Cabinet in some media polls, Ishiba said, warning of the danger of a backlash that could sink its efforts to dominate both chambers of the Diet and prevent Abe from unleashing his nationalist agenda unfettered.
Exit polls after the December race indicated the vast majority of voters disliked the DPJ more than they actually liked the LDP.
On Friday, Abe officially declared Japan’s intention to enter the ongoing TPP free-trade negotiations — at a very late stage — despite strong opposition from agricultural pressure groups and lawmakers in rural constituencies. Abe himself has admitted Japan’s participation is an issue “that splits the entire nation,” and on Sunday urged party members to have faith in his leadership.
“I will protect Japan’s food products and agriculture. I ask you to trust me,” Abe told the convention, apparently fearing a backlash from farmers over his announcement just two days earlier.
If Japan does accede to the regional accord, which in principle abolishes all trade barriers in member nations, Abe’s government would likely be forced to lower tariffs on agricultural imports — a move many farmers, especially rice producers, believe would devastate their businesses. The framework is to be worked out by year’s end.
At a meeting Saturday of local LDP branch executives in Tokyo, members from rural areas, including Hokkaido, reportedly opposed Abe’s decision to join the TPP talks.
But the convention Sunday finished without disruption because local members were only allowed to submit written opinions that had been screened in advance by the leadership. The Cabinet’s high ratings also apparently made it hard for rank-and-file members to be critical.
Since Abe took office in December, stocks have soared and the yen has sunk, allowing exporters to hike profit estimates.