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Voters head to polls for Upper House, mayoral elections

Date Posted: 2007-04-20

Okinawa voters join millions across the nation Sunday to vote and fill more than 400 mayoral and House of Councilors seats.

Many seats, including two in Okinawa, are hotly contested for reasons involving the U.S. troops presence in the country. The Ginowan City mayoral election and an open House seat pit anti-American bases candidates against those supporting the government positions.

Aiko Shimajiri, backed by the ruling coalition, has a slight lead in her quest for the House of Councilors seat vacated by Keiko Itokazu last year during her quest for the Okinawa governor’s title. A new survey indicates she has attracted backing of 70% of the Liberal Democratic Party, together with 80% of the Komeito party supporters.

Her two challengers, Yoshimasa Karimata and Hiroyuki Kinjo, are drawing support from major opposition parties.

The 42-year-old Shimajiri has the Prime Minister’s backing. Shinzo Abe has visited Okinawa to campaign for her, telling potential voters “This Okinawa district election is always important because Okinawa has the military bases and military problems.” Abe emphasized voters have only two choices, “either make the bases go away from Okinawa or make the new airport at Camp Schwab.”

Karimata, who’s running a close second to Shimajiri, says “No, no, we’ll never accept the military bases.” That’s a direct opposite to Shimajiri’s position that “I will listen to what the Nago City mayor and residents say, and I’ll follow what the Okinawa governor says.”

Northern Okinawa is supporting Shimajiri, while Okinawa and points south are pushing Karimata. The 57-year-old Karimata, who has the support of the Socialist Party, has been Workers Union Administrative Director, as well as Chairman of the Okinawa Workers Union. Kinjo, 68, is supported by the Communist Party.

Shimajiri is a former trading company official, a language school owner, and Naha City Assembly member.

Ginowan City’s mayoral election is simply pro-U.S. versus anti-U.S. bases. Incumbent Yoichi Iha, with support from the Socialist and Communist parties, wants the Americans out.

Taking on Iha is Nobuyoshi Hokama, who counters that “the current city mayor, Yoichi Iha, has been against the military and just protesting America and couldn’t take care of the city’s economic situation at all.” He says “citizens aren’t worried about only the military problem, but most want better economic circumstances.” Hokama is backed by the Liberal Democratic and Komeito parties.

The pre-election survey shows 30% of Okinawans indicate they’ll back the Liberal Democratic Party candidates, with Socialist Party supporters second at 9.2%. The Communist Party drew only 2.5% of the support. The Minshutou, the Democratic Party of Japan, has 10% of the supporters, while Koumeito has 3.8% and the People’s Socialist Party attracted 3.2%.

April 8th elections across Japan saw the ruling Liberal Democratic Party lose seats in Prefectural assembly elections, as the opposing Democratic Party of Japan scored well, particularly in urban areas. The House of Councilor elections take place in July.

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