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Itokazu scores decisive win in House of Councilors election

Date Posted: 2007-07-30


Opposition challenger Keiko Itokazu made it look easy, drubbing Junshiro Nishime to win a House of Councilors seat she’d held before.

Itokazu’s Sunday win against the Liberal Democracy Party incumbent followed the nationwide election trend that saw Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s party floundering. The 59-year-old politician won by a margin of 127,324 votes, picking up 376,460 against Nishime’s 249,136. Itokazu, in winning Okinawa’s upper house seat, was one of dozens of opposition candidates winning decisively.

Voters appeared tired of the business-as-usual stance of the LDP, listening instead to Itokazu’s insistence “we have to change the government and get back to a concept of peace.” She had campaigned hard for drastic reforms to the pension system, as well as insisting Futenma Marine Corps Air Station must be moved outside Okinawa, rather than to a new site at Henoko. Itokazu also pressed the case against the Ministry of Education’s directive revising historical accounts of the Battle of Okinawa.

Nishime’s troubles were linked to those of the LDP nationally, with voters voicing anger over Abe’s policies. Nishime, who won the upper house seat after Itokazu resigned to run for governor, couldn’t muster support from business leaders across Okinawa, or from independent voters. Itokazu not only scored heavily with independent voters, but also picked up support from disgruntled LDP voters.

Itokazu, born in Yomitan Village, moved into politics in 1992 after working as a bus conductress. Serving first as a member of the Prefecture Assembly, she was elected to the House of Councilors in 2004. She quit the post to run unsuccessfully against Hirokazu Nakaima in the Okinawa gubernatorial race. Itokazu was quick to reiterate her legislative goals for 2007 and beyond.

“We have to make major reforms to the pension system, and also to the consumption tax,” she said Sunday night. “Futenma Air Station transferring within Okinawa, NO!” she forcefully repeated. Itokazu’s been a staunch opponent of the Marines’ airbase remaining in Okinawa Prefecture, a position at odds with the Prefecture’s stance.

“I feel very badly about it,” Okinawa’s governor said after election results were posted. “It will be very much effectively harder for my policies, as I’m trying to build a good relationship with the central government.” Hirokazu Nakaima said there’s a lot at stake requiring such good relations, including the base realignment, movement of Futenma, and blocking changes to the school textbooks.

“Still, my policy is no different, of course,” the governor says. “Futenma Air Station’s move outside of Okinawa would be better, but it’s impossible. We only have to accept the move off Henoko.” Nakaima says the big thing is “to take away the danger from residential housing areas.” He says he knows there are disagreements with Itokazu, but pledged “we’ll work together for Okinawa’s people.” The governor acknowledged voters were upset with the LDP’s actions, including the pension system problems and the government position of modifying textbook accounts of Japanese soldiers ordering Okinawans to commit suicide rather than surrender to the Americans during the Battle of Okinawa.

Nakaima says, though, voters weren’t as concerned Sunday as they were two years ago during the gubernatorial election. Election turnout then was 64.5%, he pointed out, and noted Sunday’s voter turnout was only 60.32%
The Ministry of Self Defense says the opposition win will not change government policies on Okinawa. The official said the Futenma move “had nothing related to this election. We will do what we agreed on with America.” He also suggested voter irritation with the LDP may have centered on “the scandal of the American armored cars going to the Uruma City nursing school. That was a big influence to voters, and therefore, our side, Nishime, lost.”

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