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Opposition sweeps majority from LDP in Assembly elections

Date Posted: 2008-06-13

Okinawa voters spoke very loudly on Sunday, letting Governor Hirokazu Nakaima know his ruling party isn’t doing what they expected.

Opposition parties picked up the additional seats in the Prefecture Assembly election, stripping away the Liberal Democratic Party’s majority. Led by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan, voters swept 26 opposition candidates into office, a net gain of six. The LDP dropped from 27 to 22 seats, as voters let their anger be known about Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s ruling LDP-Komeito coalition and its new health care system that required elderly citizens to pay premiums on their insurance coverage.

The opposition victory threatens plans for Futenma Marine Corps Air Station to be closed and moved to a to-be-constructed airfield in Henoko, in northern Okinawa. Opposition parties have long demanded the base be moved outside Okinawa, and now they say they’ve the strength to make it happen. Hoping calmer heads prevail, some politicians have already spoken out that “we hope the Okinawan people understand the necessity of transferring Futenma to the agreed upon location at Camp Schwab”, but predict a strong battle ahead.

Sunday’s election was the lowest voter turnout in history, with only 57.82% of eligible voters casting ballots. In Ishigaki and Nanjo Cities, voters didn’t even have to go to the polls. In each city, there were as many candidates as available seats, so all were automatically elected. With a light voter turnout, election results from the other 12 districts were posted by 8 p.m.

The Liberal Democratic Party had put 34 candidates into the prefecture assembly race, while opposition and independent parties locked in 40 candidates. The Okinawa Assembly has 48 seats. The opposition bloc is made up of the Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, Okinawa Shakai Taishuto and the Social Democratic Party, along with some very small groups.

The pivotal medical insurance issue infuriated voters. Instituted in April, the new program required elderly citizens 75 and older to have the insurance premiums deducted from their pensions. The government’s reinstituting the controversial gas tax in May also didn’t sit well with voters, who wanted that road tax permanently eliminated. Voters thwarted the LDP plan to bring casino gaming to Okinawa by taking away the governor’s majority, making it harder to push the project forward.

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