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Naha election pits style, philosophical differences

Date Posted: 2004-11-05

Campaigns, debates, promises and sharp exchanges are in full swing as Naha City moves toward a November 14th general election.

The mayoral race pits the incumbent, Takeshi Onaga, 64, against Suzuyo Takazato, 64, in a battle that is focused on government reforms and positions on American military bases on Okinawa. Onaga is being supported by the Liberal Democratic Party and the religious party.

Takazato’s backers are the Communist Party, People’s Socialist Party, and labor unions. The Socialist and Communist parites are strongly opposed to the U.S. military presence on Okinawa, while the LDP supports continuing relationships with the American forces.

Both issues are hot button topics with voters.

An end to American bases on Okinawa is Takazato’s thinking. She’s opposed to the Futenma move, saying “we don’t want to transfer the Futenma Air Station to ourtside Henoko’s area ocean. Futenma should be closed all together, and the land returned to the owners.” She also advocates ending Naha Military Port.

“We’re against transferring the Naha Port to Urasoe City without any conditions.” She’s demanding an immediate return of the land to Naha City, calling for an end to plans to move the Port to Urasoe City. A Naha Military Port move to a location adjacent to the present Urasoe Port was approved several years ago, and will be constructed in conjunction with the Naha-Urasoe Port Authority.

Mayor Onaga says “it would be very nice, yes, if we could have a return without conditions. Look at the world situation though,” he points out. “It’s such a dangerous place. Who is going to keep us safe? We need some guarantees to be safe.”

The August 13th military helicopter crash in Ginowan has polarized the candidates, and voters to some degree. Takazato’s socialist backers point to a growing popularity in their candidates, noting that Keiko Itozaku was elected to the House of Council in a recent election. Onaga’s supporters says rationality and calm are needed, and say the voters know who the best candidate is.

Naha’s financial state is being interpreted widely differently by the two candidates.

Takazato blasts the current national and local government regimes, saying “we don’t agree with the prime minister’s policies at all. It’s going to make regions die. We’re going to ask the government to give the tax monies to us.” She says the 40% budget cuts must not be allowed. “What is the highest priority?” she asks. “Welfare and education. We cannot cut the budgets for them.”

Her opposition is to Prime Minister Juniichiro Koizumi’s three-part plan announced last week that would slash many federal subsidies now in place, while making individual prefectural governments responsible for collection of taxes and covering payroll for its employees. The third leg of Koizumi’s plan is privatizing some government agencies while reducing the workforce in others as economy measures.

Mayor Onaga, while not enthusiastically endorsing the Koizumi plan, says “the trinity policy has been decided already, and we have to accept it and now move on to decide which way is best to implement it.” He says he “did cut the budget already, beginning last year,” noting that he shifted half of ¥200,000,000 allocated for park operations to more essential city operations.

He notes the city-owned preschool has seen changes already, with ¥35,000,000 being moved.

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