Rice Paddy Politics

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Fumiye Soga, her hands caked with the mud from her rice paddy, stepped up onto the dry ground to talk for a few minutes about politics. ``I'm still deciding,'' she replied when asked how she will vote in next Sunday's contest for the governor of Niigata prefecture. Normally there is little question of her preference or that of most of the other farmers in this village in northeast Japan.

``I have always supported the Liberal Democratic Party,'' she says, ``but I'm very disappointed now.''

The discontent of the farmers in this region known for its high-quality rice begins, not surprisingly, with agricultural issues. At the office of the local ``nokyo,'' the agricultural cooperative, Takao Suzuki lists their complaints about the conservatives.

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``We have been discouraged to grow rice,'' he says, explaining that the government has ordered rice acreage cut by 20 percent. At the same time, the rice purchase price guaranteed by the government - many times higher than the world price - has been reduced.

Behind this, the farmers fear, is the preparation to open the rice market to imports, now forbidden. The Americans are pressing to open the market and they are being aided by the Japanese ``government and big business,'' Mr. Suzuki says.

And farmers are angered by the sales tax imposed by the conservative government and the Recruit Company corruption scandal. ``We feel rich people are taking advantage,'' Suzuki says sharply. ``They don't think about ordinary people.''

``When it comes to getting something done,'' ponders Mrs. Soga, leaning on her hoe, ``it's the LDP who has the power.'' Thinking for a moment, she continues with a slight smile, ``but I will take a risk this time to vote for the opposition.''

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