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The victory of a ruling bloc-backed candidate in the Okinawa gubernatorial election over an opposition-backed candidate should come as a relief for the central government, which is pushing a plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corp’s Futenma Air Station in Ginowan to the marines’ Camp Schwab area in Nago, in the northern part of Okinawan Island. The planned relocation is one of the hottest issues in an accord between Japan and the United States over the planned realignment of U.S. forces in Japan.

The victory of Mr. Hirokazu Nakaima, a former vice governor backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, is a boost for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and a good omen for the ruling coalition’s prospects in the Upper House election, which will be held in July 2007. Following eight years of governance by Gov. Keiichi Inamine, the conservatives will continue to rule in Okinawa under Mr. Nakaima.

The election results show that Okinawan residents are generally more concerned about economic development than about base-related issues and are looking forward to the new governor making efforts to solve economic issues. As Okinawa’s unemployment rate stands at 7.8 percent, about twice the national average, Mr. Nakaima calls for the creation of an Okinawa without unemployment.

For the first time in eight years, the Democratic Party of Japan and other opposition parties ran a unified candidate, Ms. Keiko Itokazu, a former independent member of the Upper House who called for the Futenma Air Station to be moved outside Okinawa Prefecture.

Ms. Itokazu’s defeat is a bitter pill for DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa, who regarded the gubernatorial election as a beachhead that would facilitate a DPJ victory in the coming Upper House election. The election results point to a need for the DPJ to work out an attractive policy agenda that addresses the problems faced by the people and rethink an election strategy for the Upper House election.

During the campaign, Mr. Nakaima called for closure of the Futenma air station within three years but hinted that a relocation within the prefecture would be acceptable. He faces the difficult task of conducting negotiations with the central government and finding a solution that is acceptable to the Okinawan people.

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