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Town assembly on tiny Okinawa island finally elects speaker after 99th vote

NAHA -- The municipal assembly on Japan's westernmost island of Yonaguni, Okinawa Prefecture, finally elected its speaker in its 99th vote on Oct. 31 after those elected in the previous processes had declined to take the post.

    Both pro- and anti-mayor members had refused to take the post of speaker because the camp from which a speaker is elected would become a minority in the assembly that is evenly split into the ruling and opposition camps.

    The Yonaguni Municipal Assembly unanimously elected Takezo Maenishihara, 64, of the pro-mayor Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), speaker of the town legislature on Oct. 31 after the party deemed that confusion at the local legislature should not continue any longer.

    An official of the National Association of Chairpersons of Town and Village Assemblies said such confusion is extremely rare. "In other towns and villages, assembly members settle such disputes through prior consultations and other measures. We've never heard of such a situation (like that in Yonaguni)," the official said.

    The problem dates back to a Sept. 9 election in which five conservative candidates supporting the mayor and five opposition candidates won spots in the 10-seat chamber. The assembly then held its first election for speaker on Sept. 28.

    Since the speaker does not participate in voting on draft ordinances, budgets or resolutions, both the ruling and opposition blocs had refused to take the post in a bid to secure a majority in the chamber.

    Therefore, all ruling bloc members voted for a member of the opposition camp while all opposition bloc members voted for a member of the governing camp. As candidates in both camps won five votes each, the assembly held a draw to determine the winner, but the winner refused to become speaker. This was repeated 98 times.

    Under the circumstances, the assembly had been unable to begin deliberations, forcing the executive branch of the municipal government to implement the allocation of some 390 million yen from a supplementary budget draft without approval from the assembly on Oct. 12 because it was urgent.

    The Local Autonomy Act stipulates that the speaker of a local assembly must be elected from among assembly members in an election. However, the law does not have a clause providing for procedures in case an elected person declines to take the post of speaker.

    (Japanese original by Shunsuke Yamashita and Tadashi Sano, Kyushu News Department)

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