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Coming governor's election causing stir

By: Kari Valtaoja

Date Posted: 1998-05-30

The coming Okinawa Prefecture gubernatorial election, scheduled for November, is shaping to become an interesting contest between incumbent Masahide Ota and the House of Representatives Member Kosuke Uehara.

The interesting aspect of the possible race is that both men officially represent the same party, the socialists, but a lack of a viable candidate of their own has pushed Ota's opposition, most notable the Liberal Democratic Party to try to twist Uehara to run as a candidate whom they can back up.

Uehara has officially declined the liberal democratic backed candidacy, but that has not convinced support groups to stop lobbying for him, both in Tokyo and locally.

In the background is the fate of the proposed heliport construction off Henoko. Incumbent Governor Ota has unequivocally refused to cooperate and insists that the substitute location for the MCAS Futenma has to be found outside Okinawa Prefecture, and all U.S. bases must be dismantled by the year 2015. Many feel that he has gone too far, and is damaging the people's interest.

Uehara is seen as more of a pragmatist who, while still opposing the bases in principle, sees little probability for them to be closed in the foreseeable future. Therefore, he sees them as a chance to get much needed economic boost for the prefecture in the short term.

Recently, Uehara took part in a meeting by "Future 21 Okinawa" study group. At meeting, some members of Kitanakagusuku expressed their dismay at Governor Ota's steadfast refusal to give in, and suggested that they give their support to Uehara. However, the mayor opposed the idea stating that "It's not up to Kitanakagusuku to decide this kind of matter. As far as I am concerned, we still back Governor Ota."

Uehara himself stated in an interview that "I appreciate very much for people's support, but I don't think I present myself as a candidate in the Okinawa governor's election." At the same time, when asked if he would run if asked by several large groups of citizens' and political parties, he somewhat hedges his options stating that "I don't want to comment on this. It might cause trouble in the diet if I would say that I would take part in the election in such case."

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