(Asahi: December 18, 2015 – p. 4)
By Takufumi Yoshida, Takuya Suzuki
Less than a month is left before the official start of campaigning on Jan. 17 for the mayoral election in Ginowan City, Okinawa, on Jan. 24. Ginowan hosts the Futenma Air Station.
Preliminary skirmishes are raging between forces condoning the Futenma base’s relocation within Okinawa that support the incumbent mayor and the relocation opponents who are fielding a neophyte candidate. The Abe administration and Governor Takeshi Onaga are becoming increasingly involved in this election, which now appears to be a “proxy war” on the relocation issue.
Tomonori Itosu, chair of the Komeito Okinawa chapter, told some 40 supporters gathered before him in the early evening of Dec. 17: “We pledge to fight with all we have as the party’s Okinawa chapter.” The Komeito chapter had just reached a policy agreement on five issues with Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 51, earlier in the day. Forces accepting the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko, Nago City, are backing Sakima, who is now ready to campaign in this election with the endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito.
Sakima is underscoring his close relation with the Abe administration. He is emphasizing post-relocation economic development measures, advocating building a Disney theme park on vacated Futenma base land.
He had met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga at the Kantei (Prime Minister’s Official Residence) on Dec. 8 to ask for support for this project. Suga pledged to give the government’s full support to realize this plan.
A senior administration official revealed that “actually, it was the chief cabinet secretary who suggested this.” Sakima met with executives of Oriental Land, the company that operates Tokyo Disneyland and other resorts, in early December. He was accompanied by Minister for Okinawa Affairs Aiko Shimajiri and Suga’s secretary.
Senior administration officials are concerned that Sakima’s defeat in the Ginowan election may add momentum to the anti-relocation movement. They are openly supporting Sakima with the aim of “winning at all costs.”
Since the beginning of this month, the government has agreed with the U.S. side on returning parts of the Futenma base within FY2017. The LDP also accepted all of the Komeito’s demands in the ruling parties’ talks on the reduced consumption tax rate for certain items. LDP officials have high hopes that “with this, Komeito will campaign for us in the Ginowan mayoral race.” Right after the ruling parties’ deal on the reduced tax rate, Komeito’s Okinawa chapter decided to endorse Sakima on Dec. 14.
Meanwhile, Onaga, who wants to block Henoko relocation, is filled with a sense of alarm. He is visiting Ginowan frequently to campaign for the neophyte candidate Keichiro Shimura, 63, a former prefectural government official. At a gathering of his supporters on Dec. 14, Shimura stated emphatically: “We will not allow a new military base in Henoko. Let us fight to support Governor Onaga.”
Japanese Communist Party and Social Democratic Party (SDP) politicians, and even conservative lawmakers, participated in this meeting. They represent the forces that supported Onaga in the gubernatorial election last year. Kantoku Teruya, the SDP House of Representatives member elected from Okinawa, regards the mayoral election as a fight against the Abe administration. He remarked: “If we lose, it will appear that Okinawa’s popular will is not in opposition to relocation.” These forces are making efforts to consolidate because Sakima’s reelection may weaken Onaga’s following. (Slightly abridged)