(Sankei: January 18, 2016 – p. 5)
The mayoral election campaign for Ginowan in Okinawa Prefecture started on Jan. 17 with the Futenma relocation issue as the main point of contention. The election is a one-on-one battle between the incumbent mayor Atsushi Sakima and Keiichiro Shimura. Sakima does not reject the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko in Nago City, whereas Shimura opposes the relocation. Although the incumbent mayor seems to have a slight advantage, at this point there is no telling who will win. The Sakima camp intends to tighten control over its supporters but at the same time is wary of the opponent camp’s manipulation of public opinion.
Signs saying, “This mayoral election is a fight between Okinawans and the Abe administration,” are displayed prominently along the street in the city. The Shimura camp put them up in an obvious attempt to create an impression of the election as “the national government vs. Okinawa.”
“Okinawa” in this case refers to the group known as “All Okinawa” that is made up of certain conservatives and reformist political parties, with Governor Onaga as the central figure. The group won the Nago mayoral and the gubernatorial elections, as well as single-seat constituencies in the House of Representatives election in 2014. Taking advantage of this momentum, the camp aims to win the Ginowan mayoral election, the prefectural assembly election scheduled for June, and the House of Councillors election this summer. Shimura rode around the city in a campaign car accompanied by Onaga on Jan. 17, emphasizing “Only I can move forward with Governor Onaga.”
Sakima, however, has no intention to engage in the Shimura’s “government vs. Okinawa” scheme. Sakima invited only the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Diet members elected from Okinawa to the ceremony to kick off his election campaign. A leader of the Sakima’s election campaign team said, “We will focus only on the development of Ginowan City.”
Sakima has two advantages. One is his support base and the other is his achievements during his last four-year term. Sakima will concentrate on these advantages during the week-long election campaign.
On Jan. 13, the leaders of the LDP and Komeito Okinawa Prefectural chapters visited Sakima’s campaign office. Also in attendance was Yonezo Shimoji, the chairman of the Okinawa Prefectural Construction Association, who is the elder brother of Mikio Shimoji, a member of the House of Representatives and the Initiatives from Osaka party.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga laid the groundwork for creating Sakima’s support base behind the scenes. When Chairman Shimoji visited the Prime Minister’s Official Residence [Kantei] last fall, Suga asked the chairman to support Sakima. As for the Komeito party, the party decided to endorse Sakima immediately after the party agreed with the LDP at the end of last year on a reduced tax rate. Komeito did not endorse the LDP endorsed-candidates in the last Nago mayoral election and gubernatorial election.
On the other hand, Governor Onaga singled out Shimura as a candidate because he wanted to break up the solidarity of conservative bloc. Shimura’s father used to be the chairman of the LDP Prefectural Chapter and wielded an influence over the construction industry in the prefecture.
A leader of the Shimura camp, however, said, “Splitting the conservative bloc has not been as effective as intended.” Although a public opinion survey has shown that the approval rate for Shimura is slightly higher among people aged 60 and over, the conservative bloc and companies seem to be avoiding Shimura on account of the Japanese Communist Party’s organizational campaign.
At the same time, Soka Gakkai, Komeito’s support base, launched a campaign to support Sakima last week, which will pose a significant challenge for Shimura.
One of Sakima’s achievements is the reduction of the base-hosting burden on Okinawa. In August 2014, the government relocated KC-130 refueling aircraft from the Futenma Air Station to the U.S. military Iwakuni Base (Yamaguchi Prefecture). The relocation significantly reduced the number of takeoffs and landings by the aircraft at the Futenma airfield. The Nishi-Futenma Housing Area was returned to Japan last March, and part of the Futenma airfield was returned earlier than scheduled in December. Based on these results, Sakima emphasized in a campaign speech, “During the last four years, I produced substantial results.”
However, the Sakima camp is concerned that the Shimura camp will try to manipulate public opinion toward the end of the election campaign. A leader of the Sakima camp said, “Onaga’s supporters may have the local media report that Shimura has the upper hand, leading voters to believe that Shimura is the most popular candidate.” The Sakima camp will take countermeasures to prevent its supporters from becoming anxious. (Slightly abridged)