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The Slow Rise and Rapid Fall of Koya Nishikawa

By Jasper Tolsma

SNA (Tokyo) — After having spent only six months in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s reshuffled cabinet, Minister of Agriculture Koya Nishikiwa found himself forced to resign over allegations of wrongfully accepting campaign donations from the sugar industry. The decision to step down didn’t come as a surprise, as the critique about the funding scandal had been steadily building, even leading to questioning in the Diet, and eventually leading Prime Minster Abe to make a public defense of his agriculture minister.

The six months Nishikawa served as agriculture minister are probably too short a period to judge his achievements, but it can be said that he was a government minster with a slow rise and a rapid fall from the top level of Japanese politics.

Koya Nishikawa was born in Tochigi Prefecture in 1942. After graduating from the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, he returned to his hometown in Tochigi in 1967 to become an employee of his local government. What initially seemed like a quiet and rather unremarkable job became the first blemish on Nishikawa’s record. During the construction of the Chiburi Dam, a contractor who was running behind schedule bribed Nishikawa and his superiors to overlook defects in concrete construction. After investigation, Nishikawa was arrested and found guilty of bribery. However, as he was a junior employee, and because of the insignificance of the sum that he received–twenty thousand yen–he was released from custody.

This incident delayed Nishikawa’s climb up the political ladder, and he remained in a minor position in the local government of Tochigi for the next eight years.

In 1979, however, Koya Nishikawa caught a break when he was chosen by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party to run in the prefectural assembly elections. He was successfully elected and stayed there for the next seventeen years. He was reelected four times, eventually becoming the chairman of the assembly in 1993.

His years of service in the prefectural assembly did not go unnoticed, and so in 1996 he ran for a seat in the national Diet, which he won. As a member of parliament he held positions in several committees, eventually becoming the Chairman of the Lower House Committee for Agriculture during Prime Minster Shinzo Abe’s first cabinet in 2006.

This experience led to his appointment as Minster of Agriculture in Abe’s second stint as premier, taking over the position from Yoshimasa Hayashi after last year’s cabinet reshuffle.

Nishikawa has been playing a very prominent role in the negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is a US-led free trade agreement that, among other things, aims to set tariffs for sugar and other agricultural products. Therefore, the accusations that Nishikawa received campaign funding from companies in the sugar industry were particularly damaging because it seemingly created a direct conflict of interest.

Nishikawa denies having done anything illegal, but it is still deemed necessary that he resign in order to sustain the reform programs at the Ministry of Agriculture.

As this is now the second case of alleged corruption in which Koya Nishikawa has become entangled, it is quite possibly the effective end of his high-level political career.

Jasper Tolsma is a contributing writer to the Shingetsu News Agency.