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Governor’s first year viewed one with mixed successes

Date Posted: 2007-12-14

The Okinawa Prefecture Assembly has two views on how successful Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has been during his first year in office, and those perspectives fall along political party lines.

The Liberal Democratic Party, Nakaima’s party, thinks he’s been pretty successful, while opponents across the aisle disagree. The LDP says “Our pledges are progressing very steadily”, but opposition socialist parties argue “No, there’s no progress; he’s going against his pledges.”

Politicians are looking at how the governor’s handled the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station relocation, curbing unemployment, beefing up tourism, attracting casino gaming to the island, and the economy. Supporters believe Nakaima is doing the best he can, noting “all pledges are not possible to do all by himself. To be successful, he needs to have local citizens and the government in agreement.” He wants to succeed for the people, they insist, saying opponents are blocking progress on issues.

The promise to close Futenma, located in densely populated Ginowan City within three years hasn’t been fulfilled, largely because of disagreements between the Prefecture and the central government over runways placement at Camp Schwab in northern Okinawa. “We can think about two runways,” Nakaima says, “but they should be more offshore, and not near residents’ homes.” Nakaima and northern Okinawa residents agree on this, but the central government does not.

Measures to improve the economy are mixed. Tourism is growing by some 200,000 visitors each year, and Nakaima has promised constituents he’ll bring 10 million to the Prefecture within ten years. Casino gaming is still on the table, and committees are studying how to make it happen, but there isn’t a consensus on when it can happen. The governor has appointed a new department to plan a course of action.

Unemployment dipped by one-half percent to 7.2%, but critics say that’s not enough. Nakaima has promised to reduce unemployment to 4%. At the same time, he’s been effective in modifying regulations to make it easier for small and medium size companies to expand, creating new jobs for Okinawans.

Improving northern Okinawa’s economy is moving in the right direction, as Governor Nakaima has been successful in negotiating subsidies with the central government. How long that will last links directly to the Prefecture endorsing the Futenma relocation project. In central Okinawa, delays in the Naha International Airport expansion project will have a negative impact. Offshore construction and land reclamation are behind schedule, and the forecast now is a completion date of at least 2010. Officials say opening the new airport areas by 2015 is practically impossible.

Okinawa has increased the number of students traveling abroad, with 81 students studying internationally this year, compared with 67 in 2006. The Okinawa International Graduate School is moving forward, but not as quickly as projected. The governor says it’s working, and points out the examination committee group is operating, and will set up new committees in 2009.

The governor has made 170 pledges or promises to citizens, opponents note, but he’s not close to filling most of them. The governor’s office says he’s working hard for the Prefecture, and has called for more cooperation and interaction with opposition parties.

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