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Leftist candidate elected new Ginowan City Mayor

Date Posted: 2003-05-03

A 51-year-old independent politician backed by four leftist parties, including the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, has won the Ginowan City mayoral election.

Yoichi Iha won the Ginowan City mayoral election held Sunday. Iha defeated 47-year-old Osamu Ashitomi, who was backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and its two allies. The election was extremely tight, with Iha winning by only 710 votes. The final tally had Iha cornering 17,583 votes against Ashitomi's 16,873.

The focal point of the election was the relocation of MCAS Futenma. Ashitomi advocated moving the heliport to a new facility off Camp Schwab, while Iha steadfastly insists that the air station must be moved out of the prefecture altogether. Iha also says his goal is to get all U.S. bases out of Okinawa within five years.

"I think to relocate the MCAS Futenma within the prefecture is the worst choice," Iha said Monday. "I have serious reservations about the feasibility of the project, not the least because of severe environmental problems."

Iha, a former Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member, also demanded that the Futenma base be shut down within five years. "I urge the governments of Japan and the U.S. to fulfill what they have promised us," Iha said.

Iha said he will do everything possible to fulfill his campaign promises, including taking legal action. "I will use official data to show how the Futenma base has negatively affected the prefectural and central governments. It has also eroded the U.S. military authority. I may ask the U.S. government and military directly to limit flight operations on Futenma," Iha stated.

Iha says the election results indicate that most residents, while calling for the return of the base, are against relocation within the prefecture. Many commentators say Iha's win is expected to complicate the relocation issue. They say that the anti-U.S. base movement could be rekindled and affect relocation moves planned by the central and Okinawa Prefectural governments.

However, LDP backed local politicians, including Nago Mayor Tateo Kishimoto brush aside such fears. "We have already made our decision and whatever the new mayor says, we'll stay on course and build the new base off Camp Schwab as planned," Kishimoto said Monday.

He was echoed by Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine, who said that his goal is still to move the heliport to Henoko as planned. "I understand that it is everyone's dream to have all U.S. bases moved out of Okinawa, but we must also be realistic. I think that in the current situation, moving the heliport to Henoko is the best choice," Inamine said.

In Tokyo, Kosei Ueno, the deputy chief Cabinet secretary, also stated Monday that the Cabinet has endorsed the relocation, and the panel tasked with the issue is going ahead with the plan.

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