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High voter turnout forecast in weekend elections

Date Posted: 2005-09-09

The Okinawa electorate is actively participating in the runup to Sunday’s elections, when votes are cast for the House of Representatives.

The ballot box is about more than simply electing a new set of legislators for the new session. Voters will be sending Tokyo a message about Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s postal reform plan that was rejected several months ago by the Upper House of Parliament. That stunning blow triggered the prime minister’s dumping the House of Representatives and calling for new elections.

On Okinawa, voters overwhelmingly seem to support the controversial postal reform. A new survey by the Ryukyu Shimpo newspaper company and Kyodou Telecommunications Company showed the vast majority in this southernmost prefecture favor change.

“Yes, we want postal service public corporation to privatize,” said one businessman who indicated he’s going to the polls on Sunday. Koizumi, who only a year ago introduced his Trinity Reform Plan that stripped away many subsidies and program monies traditionally doled out to the prefectures, sees privatization of Japan’s largest government entity as the key to scaling down the budget.

The squeaky tight budget offers few places for further trimming without radical government paring. Koizumi’s plan would slash 370,000 workers from the public payroll, while making the massive agent more fiscally accountable. A typical small town postmaster now makes Y1,000,000~Y1,300,000 a month ($9,345~$12,149), plus picking up two bonuses each year. In private enterprise, the numbers are expected to be trimmed, and salaries lowered, to generate profits.

Two-thirds of those polled say they support privatization, while only 18% think it’s a bad idea. “There is no guarantee that if the postal system goes private, that it won’t become a bureaucracy too,” said one dissenter. Another said he’d vote against parties supporting the privatization, because he doesn’t favor reform.

Sixteen percent of the survey respondents say they’ve no idea if the postal reform package is a good idea.

Regardless of which side of the proposal voters are on, it has stimulated public interest in the election, a trend being seen across Japan. Fully 90% of Okinawans say they plan on casting ballots on Sunday, with 89% say they are “very interested” in the issues confronting them. Every prefecture’s focus on the election is high, with the lowest rated, Aomori Prefecture, listing 82% of citizens saying they’ll vote.

Sixteen candidates are on the slate in Okinawa’s four election districts. One will be elected from each of the districts, while one other candidate is running for the nationwide seat.

Of equal importance to public officials, there’s a growing trend for interest by young people. Many tell pollsters they like Koizumi’s ideas for reforming government. Others say they like the way the prime minister has brought very smart, beautiful and sophisticated women into the process as candidates.

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