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CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Two Japanese media polls show a majority of Okinawans opposed to moving Marine air operations from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a facility to be built on Camp Schwab.

Almost 60 percent oppose plans to relocate Marine Corps air operations to the new facility, according to a recent Kyodo News poll. In a poll conducted Nov. 3 and Nov. 4, about 58.4 percent opposed the relocation plan, while 20.3 percent supported the move.

Meanwhile, an Okinawa Times/Asahi Shimbun poll conducted last weekend showed 48 percent opposed to the Camp Schwab project, which is part of a bilateral agreement signed May 1 to realign U.S. forces in Japan. An additional 33 percent said they’d favor placing the Marine air base somewhere else on Okinawa.

Only 9 percent of the registered voters in the Times/Asahi poll favored the Camp Schwab project.

Political observers have interpreted the polls as indications this Sunday’s election for governor will be tight and that, no matter who wins, the Futenma relocation project is not yet a done deal.

When the United States and and Japan agreed on an October 2005 realignment outline, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld said there would be no major changes.

“It ought to come as no surprise that somebody doesn’t like” provisions in the agreement, he said. Opponents of the plan hope Rumsfeld’s pending resignation and the Democrats taking both the House and the Senate in last week’s U.S. elections could change that stance. Especially if a strong anti-base governor is elected.

Gubernatorial candidate and businessman Hirokazu Nakaima, supported by Japan’s ruling coalition parties, said he’s opposed to the Camp Schwab plan as presented in the May agreement, but did not rule out placing the airport elsewhere on Okinawa.

His chief opponent, Keikjo Itokazu, opposes any new base on Okinawa and wants the Marine units at MCAS Futenma to move outside Japan.

When asked if Rumsfeld’s resignation or the outcome of the Okinawa election could affect the U.S.-Japan military realignment plan, U.S. Forces Japan commander Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright told Stars and Stripes Monday he was “very confident” plans will stay on track.

The alliance “is founded on common strategic objectives,” Wright said. “The political changes, while interesting, I don’t see them as a challenge. … We’ve laid a good foundation.

However, the base issue was not the foremost concern among those who responded to the Times/Asahi poll. Fifty-two percent said economic issues were the most important deciding factor. Only 26 percent placed their priority on the base issue.

Mitsuhiro Chinen, a spokesman for Nakaima, said interest in the election is rising. And not just because of the base issue.

“We can feel an upsurge of interest,” he said. “The primary concerns of voters are issues directly linked to the lives of the people, such as employment, medical care and welfare, although the bases are also a major issue.”


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