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Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Nakaima camp fares badly in assembly poll


Staff writer

NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — Okinawa voters dealt Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima and two major parties that support him a setback in Sunday's prefectural assembly election, keeping the majority of seats in the hands of parties and independents who traditionally fought against him or take no position on his policies.

News photo
Every one counts: Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima watches ballots being counted following the prefectural assembly election Sunday. KYODO

The results have reinforced Okinawa's opposition to a 2006 agreement between Japan and the U.S. to relocate the operations of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a replacement facility in Henoko, farther north on Okinawa Island, and will further frustrate efforts by Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda to gain local acceptance of the move.

Candidates from six parties traditionally opposed to Nakaima, including conservatives, as well as those of the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party and nonaffiliated candidates opposed or neutral to the governor won 27 of the 48 seats.

The Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and nonaffiliated candidates took 21 seats. The two parties, which support Nakaima, had long been in the ruling camp but now lack a majority.

The Democratic Party of Japan, which did not support Nakaima in the last gubernatorial election, was hit especially hard, with two of its three candidates, including the prefectural chapter head, losing their seats.

The election was closely watched in Tokyo for its effect on the Futenma relocation and Futenma deployment of the MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. Past accidents abroad involving the aircraft have many in Okinawa worried about its safety.

A squadron of 12 Ospreys is scheduled to arrive at Futenma sometime this summer or early in the fall, but the prefectural assembly and 39 of Okinawa's 41 municipal assemblies oppose the deployment.

For Okinawans, Sunday's election was about not only how Nakaima has dealt with opposition to the Henoko relocation and the Ospreys, but also his role in securing a new central government-funded 10-year economic development plan, which Tokyo approved last month.

The new package includes subsidies for projects that include a second runway at Naha International Airport, social welfare services and support for the local agriculture and tourism industries.

Although Tokyo agreed to the plan, Nakaima campaigned for allies by telling voters he needs a prefectural assembly that strongly supports him because he has to negotiate with the central government on a yearly basis for a budget to continue funding the various projects.

"The election results are disappointing. I definitely thought we'd win a majority. But there was no link between voter behavior and the approval of the economic development plan," Nakaima told reporters early Monday.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura declined comment on the results, saying only that Tokyo will continue to seek support from the local population for moving the airbase to U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab at Henoko.

Voter turnout was 52.49 percent, down from 57.82 percent in the 2008 assembly poll. Postelection media polls showed this was because there was more agreement than disagreement among the candidates on issues like Futenma and the Ospreys.

Campaigns tended to emphasize candidates' differences on achieving goals they all agreed on rather than over what the goal should be, creating a sense that it didn't really matter who one voted for.

"It was kind of hard to tell who was who," said Sumie Tamaki, 51, a Naha resident who said she voted for an SDP candidate.

After the 2008 assembly election, the LDP and New Komeito prefectural chapters indicated they might accept the Henoko plan under certain conditions. But in 2010, then Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, whose DPJ the previous fall came to power for the first time, angered Okinawans when he agreed to the Henoko relocation after pledging to voters that the Futenma operations would be moved out of the prefecture.

The heads of all 41 Okinawa municipalities, as well as the prefectural assembly, passed resolutions or declarations opposing any new airbase in the prefecture, forcing Nakaima to clearly say he was against it. But because of his past support, some in Tokyo and Washington believed that if Nakaima's allies captured a majority in the assembly, he could be persuaded to drop his opposition.

The Noda government's handling of the Osprey deployment also appears to have benefitted candidates who have long been against Nakaima.

Last week's appointment of scholar and U.S.-Japan defense expert Satoshi Morimoto as defense minister was praised in Washington and Tokyo as a sound choice. But Morimoto is controversial in Okinawa, where his strong support for the marine presence, close ties to the U.S. and status quo thinking on U.S.-Japan security issues created concerns, even among conservatives, that he is out of touch with Okinawa political realities.

Those concerns intensified on June 5 when Morimoto told reporters that while he hopes the results of all U.S. investigations into the April crash of an Osprey in Morocco will be provided to Japan before the aircraft are deployed to Okinawa, it is possible they will arrive at Futenma before all accident reports are finished.

That comment was heavily criticized by conservatives and progressives in Okinawa, and landed Morimoto in hot water with the prefectural chapter of the DPJ, which called for his resignation. The U.S. told Japan late last week one investigation by a U.S. Navy accident investigation committee revealed no technical problems with the Osprey that crashed. Other investigations, including one by the U.S. Navy's judge advocate general, are ongoing.

Morimoto's statement came not long after front-page news reports in Okinawa that Noda will use his attendance at the June 23 ceremony marking the end of the Battle of Okinawa to press Nakaima on the Ospreys. The news was heavily criticized by Nakaima and candidates in the major ruling and opposition parties, forcing Fujimura to deny the reports Thursday.

Ospreys at Iwakuni?

JIJI

YAMAGUCHI — Yamaguchi Gov. Sekinari Nii said Monday his prefecture will reply by the end of August to a request to accept a temporary deployment of the controversial U.S. MV-22 Osprey aircraft.

Speaking at a news conference, Nii said a reply will come before his term expires Aug. 21.

His comments came after the central government asked him earlier in the day to let the U.S. Marine Corps deploy the tilt-rotor aircraft temporarily at its Iwakuni base in the prefecture.

The Japanese and U.S. governments plan to confirm the Osprey's safety at the Iwakuni base before its permanent deployment at Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Okinawa.

The request was put forward to Nii by Parliamentary Vice Defense Minister Hideo Jinpu in a meeting. Jinpu made a similar request in a separate meeting with Iwakuni Mayor Yoshihiko Fukuda.

Jinpu told Fukuda the aircraft will stay at the Iwakuni base for some 10 to 14 days. Jinpu then called on the mayor to agree to the deployment to help reduce Okinawa's burden in hosting U.S. forces.

Both Nii and Fukuda declined to give an immediate reply to the request.

The mayor told reporters after the meeting that he sees the need for further explanations about safety and environmental impact.



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