National / Politics

Shigeru Ishiba pledges rural revitalization laws if he beats Abe in LDP leadership race

by Reiji Yoshida

Staff Writer

Former Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba, the main rival to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s leadership race next month, said Friday that he would consider enacting three laws to reinvigorate rural areas if he beats Abe as party president and subsequently becomes prime minister.

The three laws would involve enhancing the productivity of service industries, promoting the migration of urban residents to rural areas and reforming local government systems by entrusting some administrative work to local non-profit organizations and agricultural cooperatives, Ishiba said.

Ishiba also criticized what he believes to be Abe’s basic strategy to revive rural areas that are suffering from enduring economic slumps and depopulation, which is to foster improvements in urban areas first and then wait for ripple effects to spread them to other areas.

“It is country areas that have potential for growth,” Ishiba, former minister in charge of regional revitalization, told a news conference in Tokyo at the Upper House building.

“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 said.

He also pledged to promote the relocation of more central government ministries from Tokyo to other areas.

Ishiba is trying to drum up support from rank-and-file members from rural areas ahead of the Sept. 20 election, as about 70 percent of LDP Diet members are currently expected to vote for Abe.

Having served as farm minister from 2008 to 2009 and minister in charge of regional revitalization from 2014 to 2016, Ishiba’s familiarity with policies related to rural areas is one of the reasons he is popular among local party members across the country.

Abe, meanwhile, plans to officially throw his hat in the ring on Sunday in Kagoshima, kicking off a de facto campaign tour around the country to see rank-and-file LDP members nationwide, according to media reports.

As of Friday, Ishiba had held three news conferences to discuss policy affairs this month. They were all designed to urge Abe to “come forward” and announce his candidacy at an early stage, a key aide to Ishiba told The Japan Times on Friday.

In addition, Ishiba plans to hold another news conference on Monday to “discuss policy affairs in a comprehensive manner,” said Masaaki Taira, a Lower House member and another aide close to Ishiba, at the end of Friday’s news conference.

Ishiba’s campaign team “is now happy” because Abe looks ready to officially declare his candidacy soon, the aide said.

With Abe expected to gain support from a vast majority of Diet members, observers say the race is a done deal.

Ishiba’s main goal now appears to be stirring up public debate over policy issues and winning many votes from rank-and-file party members in a bid to retain his political standing after the election.

Ishiba has repeatedly called for policy debate sessions with Abe ahead of the election. Abe’s team, however, has yet to respond to Ishiba’s calls, and has so far avoided arranging such a debate.