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International politics and economy to impact local elections this year

Date Posted: 2006-01-05

Okinawa voters go to the polls on several occasions this year, and larger than life issues will dictate how many will cast their ballots.

Both Nago City and Okinawa City are preparing for mayoral elections, the election of 28 new Assembly members is coming, and the Prefecture will be looking for a new governor this year.

Many of the issues being pushed in front of potential voters are more than local issues.

The plan for relocating Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from Ginowan to Camp Schwab, in Nago City’s neighborhood, is controversial and drawing fire from cities, towns and villages across the island. Okinawa Governor Keiichi Inamine, who is not running for reelection, is lobbying hard to force the Japanese Government to reverse its decision on the base, calling for the base to “be relocated outside Okinawa Prefecture”.

Inamine is at odds with Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, whose central government approved the deal last October, agreeing to move the airfield north as part of a package that includes removing 7,000 Marines from Okinawa, returning Camp Kinser to Urasoe City, and significantly reducing the American footprint on the island. The U.S. and Japan are expected to formally sign the agreement in March, but protesters are demanding the deal be scrapped.

Alternatives have been suggested for Futenma, including moving to other islands within Okinawa Prefecture, and also to Iwo Jima. Anti-base movements across Okinawa are rejecting any discussions that would keep the base in Okinawa, although they insist they still want to see the Marines leave, as spelled out in the proposed agreement.

The confrontations over the bases issue is making funding for the new Okinawa Graduate University construction more complicated. Okinawa Prefecture has insufficient money to fund the project, which was forecast to be complete in 2008. Officials say it may be 2012, or later, before they can come up with the money. The prefecture is not expecting Prime Minister Koizumi to come to the island’s aid on the issue. Already, the new Univresity president, together with 41 scientists and professors, as well as 18 administrative workers, are involved in the new university development.

They’re telling all Okinawans who will listen that Governor Inamine’s hard stance against the central government is damaging the University. They say if he’d listen to the prime minister, or to the Tokyo government, the University should be able to get funding an open on schedule. Many local residents are now saying they’re worried the new graduate school may not be completed, or the process drawn out so long as to lose all the key world class professors and academicians who’ve agreed to come to Okinawa.

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