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Ginowan Mayoral Election pits two challengers

Date Posted: 2012-02-10

Two fiery political leaders have their eye on the Ginowan City Mayor’s Office, including a former mayor who quit to run for governor, and the countdown to Sunday’s election is filled with anti-base rhetoric surrounding their demands Futenma Marine Corps Air Station be moved.

Both candidates to fill the Mayor’s chair vacated by Takeshi Asato, who resigned for health reasons, are running as independents, although both have strong constituencies. Atsushi Sakima, a 47-year-old former member of the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly, and former Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha have filed their papers for Sunday’s elections.

Both Sakima and the 60-year-old former mayor are opposed to Futenma Marine Corps Air Station, which takes up roughly one-fourth of the city’s land mass, and are demanding it be moved outside Okinawa Prefecture. Iha was an outspoken opponent of the Marine base during his earlier mayoral tenure. He’s supported primarily by the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. His hardline stance extends to opposition to the heavy stationing of American troops on the island.

Sakima is backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and its Buddhist-backed ally, New Komeito. The veteran politician had previously supported relocating Futenma elsewhere on Okinawa, placing his priorities on early return of the Futenma land to the city. He’s since modified his position.

The ruling Democratic Party of Japan is staying a bit low key in the days leading to the election, largely because of the backlash over alleged meddling in the election process by a senior Defense Ministry official based in Okinawa. Okinawa Defense Bureau Chief Ro Manabe has been under fire for creating a list of his employees who either live in Ginowan or have relatives there, and for conducting two lectures about the election.

Of 80 people working for Manabe, 66 listened to his lectures, during which he encouraged employees to vote in the upcoming election, and to urge their relatives to do so, too. Opposition lawmakers say Manabe’s trying to tilt votes toward one candidate. If it is found to be true that his actions violate Japanese public offices election law, which bans public officials from using their positions to promote a position in an election, he could face legal action.

Regardless, the controversy is drawing attention to plans for pushing forward the process to move Futenma north from Ginowan City.

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