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Saturday, Oct. 23, 2004

OVERSEAS BALLOTS A DECIDING FACTOR

Democrats, Republicans vie for Japan votes


Staff writer

OSAKA -- With less than two weeks to go until U.S. voters go to the polls to choose between incumbent President George W. Bush and Sen. John Kerry, representatives of the Republican and Democratic parties in Japan are doing their best to round up very vote.

Partisans on both sides predict victory, but admit the election is going to be extremely close.

In Kansai, the local chapter of Democrats Abroad Japan is preparing its final strategies.

Over the past few months, both it and the Tokyo chapter have engaged in a get-out-the-absentee-ballot campaign, searching high and low for Americans who are not yet registered to vote and signing them up. The registration deadline has already passed for most states in the U.S.

It has also sponsored a number of movie nights in Tokyo and Osaka, screening such films as independent documentaries on the war in Iraq, the dominance of Rupert Murdoch's FOX news network in the U.S., and a special screening of Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11."

Republicans Abroad Japan, which only has a Tokyo chapter, also has been working to register voters.

When it comes to the U.S. vote in Japan, Doug Hardy, chairman of Republicans Abroad Japan, said his group has an advantage over Democrats Abroad Japan.

"There are about 105,000 U.S. military, civilians who work for the military and military dependents in Japan. Of these, we estimate that between 70,000 and 80,000 can vote," Hardy said. "Then, there is another 70,000 to 100,000 nonmilitary Americans in Japan, and perhaps 70 percent or more can vote."

These figures are private estimates as there are no official statistics on the number of eligible American voters in Japan. Neither are there records of how many Americans here voted in the 2000 election.

Hardy estimated that perhaps 60 to 70 percent of American businesspeople in Japan vote or lean toward voting Republican.

"Japan is unique in that there is a higher percentage of American Republican voters here than in America itself," Hardy said. "The reason is that there are no trial lawyers, union leaders or Hollywood elite living in Japan."

However, Charlie Fox of Democrats Abroad Japan Kansai said he has not met many Americans in the Kansai region who support Bush.

"I'd say about 90 percent of the Americans I know support Kerry," he said.

Democrats Abroad Japan and Republicans Abroad Japan each claim membership of about 1,000.

Most political analysts in the United States believe that the deciding factor in the election could be overseas voters.

Because of its huge presence abroad, much attention has focused on how the U.S. military will vote.

Fox said: "The U.S. military traditionally votes Republican. But it could be different this time around.

"Many senior Pentagon officials and military leaders, as well as enlisted personnel, do not approve of the Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq. You could see a split this time, with senior military officials and enlisted personnel voting for Kerry, and the middle-level officials voting for Bush."

Hardy conceded that such a scenario is possible, but said he doubts it will affect the election.

"It's possible that because of the war on Iraq, the usual 80 percent of American military who vote Republican might decline to 75 percent, but the majority will still vote Republican," he said.

And what of the effect on U.S.-Japan relations?

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has already publicly voiced support for Bush, Hardy said, adding that he believes relations, at least at the political level, will remain good.

But Democrats Abroad Japan members are divided over the future of U.S.-Japan relations.

"Frankly, I don't see any major changes in U.S. policy toward Japan under Kerry," said Sven Serrano, chairman of Democrats Abroad Japan, Kansai.

But Craig Sweet, another member, worries about the personal impact of a Bush re-election.

"The longer I live in Japan, the tougher it is to justify to Japanese friends the policies of the Bush administration," he said. "A Kerry win will help turn things around."



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