• Kyodo

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Campaigning for the Nov. 17 Okinawa gubernatorial election officially got under way Thursday as three candidates filed to run against incumbent Keiichi Inamine.

In addition to Inamine, 69, who is seeking a second four-year term, former Vice Gov. Masanori Yoshimoto, 65, Shigenobu Arakaki, 60, and Mitsuo Matayoshi, 58, registered their candidacies, a local administration commission said.

The main issues of the campaign are likely to revolve around the U.S. military bases in the prefecture and Okinawa’s economic woes.

The relocation of the helicopter base at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to a military-civilian airport that the central government hopes to have built off Nago is a particularly important issue.

The prefecture’s troubled economy, whose 9.4 percent unemployment rate in September was the highest in the nation, will be another.

Inamine, an independent supported by the ruling bloc — the Liberal Democratic Party, New Komeito and the New Conservative Party — says he wants a 15-year limit put on the U.S. forces’ use of the replacement site. The joint airport would be built off the coast of Nago, on the northern part of Okinawa Island.

The United States government, however, has refused to accept a time limit, and the Japanese government has stayed on the sidelines of the debate.

In his first campaign speech, Inamine did not touch on the issue but instead emphasized that he has done his best on “U.S. base and economic issues” during his first term.

Yoshimoto, an independent supported by the Social Democratic Party, the Liberal League and another local party, wants the U.S. base in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, to absorb the Futenma helicopter base.

Yoshimoto, who was vice governor under Inamine’s predecessor, Masahide Ota, argued that even if Inamine’s 15-year limit is adopted, the new airfield would be used by the U.S. military “at least until 2030.” Construction of the airfield, which has not yet begun, will take at least 15 years, according to estimates.

Yoshimoto said he would call for the U.S. Marines to pull out completely from Okinawa.

Arakaki, an independent supported by the Japanese Communist Party, advocates the unconditional return of the Futenma base to Okinawa.

Socialist and Communist groups in Okinawa, which have consistently supported joint candidates in gubernatorial elections since the island’s reversion to Japan in 1972, are split for the first time between Yoshimoto and Arakaki in this race.

Matayoshi, who is not supported by any of the big political parties, is calling for relocating the base to another prefecture.

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