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Battle lines drawn in gubernatorial race

Date Posted: 2006-10-07

Promising to “fight with the American military”, the leftist parties’ candidate for governor has ratcheted up the anti-American fervor ahead of the November 19th election.

Keiko Itokazu, a member of the House of Councilors, is clear in her opposition to continued operation of U.S. military bases on Okinawa, and is speaking out on why the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station should not be moved to a new location in northern Okinawa. “We don’t need a new base”, she declared this week as she began her campaign to become governor.

Itokazu is facing Hirokazu Nakaima, former chairman of the Okinawa Chamber of Commerce and Industry, to take the governor’s office from Keiichi Inamine who’s retiring. She is on the attack, intimating Inamine is in the central government’s pocket by backing Tokyo’s policies instead of representing Okinawa interests. “It’s very dangerous, governor”, she told reporters. “I have to win back the governor’s office. It’s been eight years, and I’ll never ever agree to the idea of transferring the Futenma Air Station to Camp Schwab.

“It has to move out from Okinawa,” she insists. “That’s my target.”

Nakaima, for his part, has been low key on handling the Futenma transfer issue. “I know about the current Futenma Air Station’s dangerous situation,” he says, “and we have to listen opinions from everywhere on how to clear this problem.” Nakaima has taken a ‘wait and see’ attitude, acknowledging that residents have feelings and desires about the Futenma move, but adding it’s the voices “of Nago City and local residents of Henoko, and what they want,” that must be heard. He says he’ll ask the central government to understand Okinawa’s desires.

The 67-year-old Nakaima is focusing on the positive elements of the planned Futenma move, citing how the return of bases on the southern part of Okinawa “will be very successful in expanding and promoting economic development on Okinawa.” He says his concern is getting base workers reemployed after the bases are returned. The former Okinawa Electric Power Company chairman says he’ll “do my best” to make Okinawa a more powerful prefecture.

Itokazu is pushing that issue as well, citing her concerns about the “total package planning where if you are against transferring the air base to Camp Schwab, you’re not going to get the southern bases back.” She is asking Okinawans to speak out about the plan, which would block the return of Camps Kinser and Zukeran, as well as Naha Military Port, if the new air field isn’t built.

Japan’s new prime minister, Shinzou Abe, is weighing in on Nakaima’s side. “Okinawa Prefecture’s gubernatorial election is a district election,” he says, “but its outcome is very important in order to make the U.S. base transformation plans to go smoothly.” Abe, elected to the post only a week ago, says “we need to win this election, with the governor’s party union and the Liberal Democratic Party working together. Hirota Nakaima has very strong support, but the opposition party isn’t going to give up easily.”

Abe predicts Itokazu will seek defectors from the governor’s party, and also from the central government, to push opposition to the Futenma transfer.

A Japan-U.S. agreement on American forces realignment in Japan, was signed last spring. It calls for building a new airfield on the Marine base at Camp Schwab in Nago. Construction of the airfield with its V-shaped runway would require landfill construction into the adjacent bay and along the coastline.

Itokazu says Futenma should be moved out of Okinawa to another location in Japan, or out of the country completely. “We should not allow the construction of the V-shaped runway being forced upon us by the government. We should regain control of our prefecture government, regardless of what it takes.” She’s called on the prefecture to toss out the consulting group set up by the central government, suggesting it’s a puppet operation “aimed for the construction of the new base.”

Asked how she would resolve the problem, she says “I can’t say anything now,” but promised to discuss it later. She says “I’m going to make new ideas for American military bases. New, because they will be base return action programs. I call it this.” She wants to see time limits on bases remaining in Okinawa, and reductions in the number of military troops on the island. In a post-military Okinawa, she wants to set up programs to hire the former base workers, take care of land owners, and decide how to use the land once the bases are gone. “These three points,” she says, “should be a set together, and are my concern. If I become governor, I’m going to work with mayors of cities and towns, and work against the bases.”

The 58-year-old lawmaker is a Yomitan High School graduate who was formerly a part-time assistant teacher at Okinawa University. She also served as a tourist bus guide, picking up the nickname ‘peace bus guide’ for her impassioned descriptions of the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. Nakaima, a mainstay in the Okinawa business community, is a graduate of the prestigious Tokyo University.

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