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Residents in latest city merger going to polls Sunday

Date Posted: 2006-02-10

Six weeks after being founded as an Okinawa municipality, Nanjo City is preparing for its first mayoral election.

Nanjo City was established January 1st by merging Sashiki Town, Ozato, Chinen and Tamagusuku Villages. The merger was triggered last year by financial pressures and the Japanese prime minister’s Trinity Reform Plan.

Mayors of the three former villages tossed their hats in the ring last weekend in bids to become the new Nanjo City mayor. Observers say none of the three appears to have an upper hand with voters.

Former Ozato Village Mayor Yoshiaki Yagi is challenging his former counterparts Noboru Oshiro of Tamagusuku, and former Chinen Village Mayor Kageharu Oja.

Money was the driving force in bringing the four communities together as one. As subsidies from the Tokyo central government withering away as Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi shifted financial responsibilities down to state and local governments, the town and villages had no choice but to merge. Even now, with the merger, officials are all stressing the requirement for heavy and painful budget cuts.

Yoshiaki Yagi is telling voters he’ll cut public servants’ salaries and beef up tax collection efforts. “There are many residents who shirk their responsibility and have not paid their residence taxes,” the 64-year-old former Ozato mayor says. “To collect those unpaid fees would be the first step to take.”

Former Tamagusuku mayor Noboru Oshiro agrees the changes are necessary, but says he’ll cut the number of government employees instead of slashing salaries. The 66-year-old former mayor says he’ll also dump funding for “unneeded public events.” Kageharu Oja, the youngest of the candidates, says he can get by with cutting excess work force and by budgeting office expenses.

The central government has promised a Y211.7 billion one-time subsidy to jump start the new city’s economy.

The 50-year-old Oja thinks that’s too much money, and promises to accept only 60% if he’s elected. He says he will use that money for running the city until reforms begin taking effect.

Oshiro promises to push the new subsidy money into improving older school buildings within the new city, and to invest in the infrastructure for health care and welfare facilities. Yagi also wants to keep the whole subsidy, telling voters he’ll use it for new facilities, such as a library and a United Nations conference hall.

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