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Nakaima soundly beats Iha in gubernatorial election

Date Posted: 2010-12-02

The rhetoric was much closer than the race itself, as 60.88% of Okinawa’s voters turned out Sunday to return Governor Hirokazu Nakaima to the Prefecture’s top spot.

Nakaima handily defeated challenger Yoichi Iha by more than 38,000 votes, 335,708 to 297,082, riding a wave of constituent concerns about the economy, as well as the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation issue. A second challenger, 46-year-old Tatsuro Kinjo of the Happiness Realization Party that supports keeping U.S. bases in Okinawa, garnered 13,116 votes.

The 71-year-old governor, who had support from his Liberal Democratic Party, the New Komeito Party and Your Party, claimed voters supported his achievements of the past four years. He campaigned on a pledge to implement projects and programs to jump-start the local Okinawa economy and make it “stand on its own feet” by emphasizing strengths in entertainment, tourism and culture. Nakaima had in recent months reversed course somewhat, from being a reluctant supporter of the Futenma relocation to northern Okinawa, to a politician arguing that the time’s come for other Japanese prefectures to share the burdens of hosting American bases.

Pragmatic, though, Nakaima has left the door slightly ajar for renewed discussions with the central government, which continues to argue Japan has an obligation to live up to a 2006 U.S. ~ Japan Security Alliance that was reaffirmed earlier this year. The governor is saying there’s “effectively no place” on Okinawa for a replacement airfield, but hasn’t refused to continue discussions with Tokyo.

The principal loser was Iha, the 58-year-old former Ginowan City mayor whose anti-base position was so hard core there was no chance of either U.S. or Japanese officials being able to reason with him. Iha had stated publicly he would not even talk to the central government as long as the current relocation plan was on the table.

The governor’s role is pivotal for simple resolution to the airbase relocation to Futenma. The governor, by Japanese law, has approval rights on all land reclamation needed to construct any facility. While Nakaima’s stiffened his stance on the base relocation in recent months, he’s been on record as saying he could be convinced to approve the new base, provided local citizens agreed and that local businesses—particularly contractors—would benefit from the projects.

Nakaima’s well aware of the 2012 end to a 10-year government assistance program that’s handed out trillions of yens to the local Okinawa economy for developing new businesses and industry. His challenge is to find a way to convince Tokyo to renew the programs and keep money flowing to the nation’s southernmost prefecture. That incentive, many political and economic observers say, could be strong enough to lead Hirokazu Nakaima back down the central government’s path that calls for relocating Futenma to Henoko in Nago City, and moving 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam. With media polls showing citizens’ number one concern being the economy, the governor could find the anti-base sentiments slipping to the side in favor of economic growth.

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