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Three competing in Sunday Okinawa City mayoral election

Date Posted: 2010-04-22

Voters in financially strapped Okinawa City head to the polls Sunday to decide which of the three candidates would be their mayor for the coming four years.

Support for families is a major issue being addressed by incumbent mayor Mitsuko Tomon, who’s seeking reelection as an independent but with backing from the Socialist and Communist Parties, as well as the People’s Socialist Party. Her supporters are sporting pink armbands, headbands and even pink T-shirts as Tomon fights for the women’s vote.

Challenger Mitsuru Kyan, who contends “fees for school meals should be cut 50% for kids 15 years of age and under,” is rallying his supporters as he campaigns on special stages on a mini truck. To support his citizen’s point of view, his supporters are wearing yellow headbands as they listen to him tell rally attendees “medical charges and care should be free, and children’s centers set up at every junior high school. Then the child care support centers and family support centers and after school centers should be spread to all areas of the city.”

The 62-year-old Kyan is a former Okinawa Prefecture Dental Association chairman running as an independent with backing from the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito Party. His campaign pledges all center on increasing services and reducing costs for families and children.

Independent candidate Shinkichi Esu is the third person seeking the mayoral seat in the prefecture’s second largest city. He’s a former Okinawa City Assembly member, running without endorsement from any political parties. The 60-year-old Esu is focusing on both the Nakagusuku Harbor Awase Tidelands reclamation work and the need for downtown promotion development measures.

The 67-year-old mayor has built her campaign around boosting family support. She’s arguing children under age 15 should get free hospital care, while all children under four should be receiving free clinic or doctor visits. She also wants to see free treatment for pre-schoolers. More than 232 youngsters are on waiting lists to attend preschools in Okinawa City, which has countless financial problems.

Okinawa City has traditionally paid support money to 20% of children in the city, but last year had to increase to 24.17% in tough economic times. The City Office has been paying for school food and school transportation, but doesn’t know where the money’s to come from to continue the services. Each of the mayoral candidates have been challenged to think about the problem in a city where 20.5% of the population is under the age of 15, the highest average child population in all of Japan. The city’s preschools are strapped and overcrowded, but there’s no money to build more.

One divorced mother of three children has weighed into the campaign, pointing out her former husband has never paid support money for their children, so she’s had to work hard. One child is in high school, a second in junior high and a third in elementary school, with the woman raising the family on only ¥100,000 a month. She says without support money from the City, she can’t take good care of her kids. “I want the City Office to take good care of children until they can start working, so that means until they are 18 years old.”

Election officials are cautiously and optimistically predicting a high voter turnout on Sunday. Each of the candidates is encouraging supporters to turn out to vote, and to support their policies.

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