Airport foes gain ground in Kobe assembly race

by Eric Johnston

Staff writer

KOBE — Opponents of the proposed Kobe airport gained some ground in the municipal elections Sunday with the defeat of seven assembly members who advocated the project.

About 52 percent of Kobe’s 1.6 million registered voters cast ballots. In the last city assembly elections, held in 1995 just a few months after the Great Hanshin Earthquake, the figure was 45 percent, the lowest in postwar history, as most voters were busy rebuilding their lives.

This time around, the airport issue was especially prominent, as out of some 123 candidates running for office, 65 declared their opposition to the project.

The Liberal Democratic Party remains the largest force in the assembly, with 19 members. Both the Democratic Party of Japan and New Komeito have 14 members, while the Japanese Communist Party has 13.

The LDP, DPJ and New Komeito all support the airport. The JCP and several of the smaller independent parties are opposed.

Voter turnout was heaviest in Nagata Ward, where earthquake damage was the most severe, with nearly 60 percent of those eligible casting votes. “It’s important that the city think about ways to keep businesses in the region and to make sure that there are employment opportunities in Kobe,” said Yoshi Saguchi, 39, from Nagata Ward.

On the other hand, Tomoo Nagai, a construction worker from Hyogo Ward, said he hopes the assembly will move quickly on the airport issue. “For Kobe’s future, I think it’s necessary and will lead to the recovery of the city as a whole,” he said.