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Okinawa gubernatorial poll partly moved up to avoid typhoon

Denny Tamaki, left, and Atsushi Sakima are seen in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sept. 13, 2018. (Mainichi/Michiko Morizono and Toyokazu Tsumura)

NAHA -- The Okinawa Prefectural Government election management commission has decided to move up some voting for the upcoming gubernatorial election from Sept. 30 to either Sept. 27 or 28, in a bid to minimize the impact of an approaching typhoon.

The areas of Japan's southernmost prefecture targeted by the schedule change include remote islands such as the town of Taketomi, and a part of the city of Uruma connected by the overwater Mid-Sea Road to Okinawa's main island. The commission determined that transporting ballot boxes to vote tallying stations from the islands by boat would be hampered by possible rough seas triggered by Typhoon Trami, the 24th of the year. Japan Coast Guard helicopters and other means of transport are being discussed instead.

In connection with this move, the prefectural election panel issued a rare request on Sept. 26 to media outlets to encourage voters to cast their ballots before election day.

Contenders in the election are trying to figure out how much negative impact the typhoon will have on their campaigns and voter behavior. Fifty-four-year-old Atsushi Sakima, who is backed by the national ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, told voters in the prefectural capital of Naha on Sept. 26 to utilize the early voting program.

The Sakima camp and its LDP and Komeito backers had already been promoting early voting, as they wish to lock in all available support in their fight against his better known rival Denny Tamaki, 58, and face a tough challenge getting votes from independents.

For the Tamaki camp, the typhoon may turn out to be a serious blow. The candidate has focused on attracting support from independents and young people, who may decide not to show up at polling stations amid a typhoon.

"We will be on the defensive if bad weather lowers turnout," said a campaign official. A prefectural assembly member pointed out that much of Tamaki's support base is made up of elderly people, and noted, "They cannot go to vote if the weather is terrible."

Meanwhile, if the typhoon hits Okinawa directly, the voting date could be delayed for several days in areas covered by severe weather warnings.

(Japanese original by Nozomu Takeuchi, Political News Department, and Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department)

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