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Governor election race intensifies as Tokyo watches

Date Posted: 1998-11-06

The Okinawa Prefecture gubernatorial election race has been in full swing for a week with both main candidates, the incumbent governor Masahide Ota, and his challenger Keiichi Inamine maintaining feverish pace trying to drum up support among local constituents.

The overwhelming issue in the election is the fate of the Japan - U.S. agreement on the relocation of the MCAS Futenma. The relocation plan has been stalled since Governor Ota refused to sign an agreement to allow the construction of the floating heliport to commence. Linked to the fate of the relocation plan are many economic incentives that the central government has promised to introduce once the relocation issue is settled.

Both candidates have expressed their opposition to a plan to construct a floating heliport. But thatís where the similarities end. Ota wants to relocate the heliport outside the prefecture and thus reduce the number of U.S. troops stationed here. He wants to prop up the local economy by promoting multi-media industries as a means to boost employment. The unemployment in Okinawa currently stands at 8.7%, a double of the national average and the worst in the country.

Inamine has proposed a construction of a land-based airport in the northern part of the prefecture, which would be used jointly by civilian airlines. He considers it vital that the heliport will be constructed within Okinawa in order to secure the economic stimulus packages from the central government.

Inamineís plan has in recent days received some positive comments from Tokyo liberal democratic lawmakers. Even though the government still insists that the floating heliport plan is the best, recent comments by key government officials hint that there might be room for a compromise. The comments came after the opinion expressed by U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen, who said that the U.S. side would be willing to consider an option other than the floating facility in order to resolve the issue.

The latest Japanese official to comment on the issue was Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka who was reported saying Monday that the government will consider any other plan that would be acceptable to both Tokyo and Okinawa.

For now, the government wants to wait for the results of the gubernatorial election, and decide after the Nov. 15 election how to proceed. At the same time, they no doubt hold their fingers crossed hoping that the host in Okinawa Governorís Mansion will be a new face.

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