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Gov’t, Okinawa governor clash in Ginowan mayoral election

  • 2015-12-21 15:00:00
  • , Mainichi
  • Translation

(Mainichi: December 20, 2015 – p. 3)


 By Kota Takamoto, Junya Higuchi, Keiichi Sato


 The government and Okinawa are engaged in fierce “preliminary skirmishes” in the run-up to the mayoral election in Ginowan City, which hosts the Futenma Air Station. The official campaign period for this election starts on Jan. 17 and voting is taking place on Jan. 24.


 The government, which wants to promote the relocation of the Futenma base, is supporting incumbent Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 51, while Governor Takeshi Onaga, who opposes relocation, is backing Keiichiro Shimura, 63, a neophyte candidate who is a former prefectural government official. The Onaga camp is critical of the economic measures proposed by the government, so linkage between the U.S. bases and economic development measures has emerged as a key issue.


 The Kantei (the Prime Minister’s Official Residence) regards the Ginowan election as “an important opening match in a series of elections next year – the by-election for the fifth House of Representatives district in Hokkaido in April, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election in June, and the House of Councillors election in summer.” Above all, the mayoral election will have a major impact on Futenma relocation. The main justification for the government’s relocation plan is the need to remove the danger posed by the Futenma Air Station in a densely populated area where homes and schools are located. If Shimura supported by Onaga wins, the basis of this argument may be shaken.


 A senior government official points out the “absolute necessity to win this election.” The Liberal Democratic Party’s analysis is that “we are not losing at this point,” according to a senior party official. The LDP is campaigning in this election as if it were an election at the national level, with Election Strategy Committee Director General Toshimitsu Motegi visiting Okinawa personally. However, LDP members have also expressed concern about the Kantei’s approach of pulling out all the stops. A mid-ranking Diet member notes that “it could be counterproductive if Mr. Suga plays too prominent a role.”


 For Onaga, who is in confrontation with the government on Henoko relocation, popular support is the source of his power and elections are a barometer to gauge such support. He wants to follow up the gubernatorial and Lower House election victories last year by winning the mayoral race, in order to confront the government anew with “Okinawa’s voice” of opposing relocation within the prefecture. This is a reflection of his fear that “if we lose this election, the government may launch an offensive, on the grounds that popular will in Okinawa is not opposed to relocation,” according to Social Democratic Party Lower House member Kantoku Teruya elected from the second district of Okinawa.


 In selecting the candidate, Onaga insisted on a candidate that can split the conservative vote, based on his previous experience of winning the governorship with a “united front of conservatives and reformists” joined by reformists, conservatives, and business leaders. His aides were deeply involved with the selection. (Abridged)

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