(Tokyo Shimbun: January 25, 2016 – p. 5)
The incumbent backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe clinched a victory in the mayoral race in Ginowan, home to a U.S. Marines air base. This merely represents the public will calling for closure of the U.S. base. It is premature to interpret this as a public mandate for the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko.
The race was a “proxy war” over Futenma relocation fought by the Abe government and Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga. Atsushi Sakima won the race with the backing of the Liberal Democratic Party and the Komeito Party.
The Abe government has been promoting the return of the Futenma base to Japan by transferring its functions to a new U.S. military facility, which will be built in Henoko, Nago. But given the fact that Okinawa hosts about 74% of U.S. force bases and training facilities, the relocation within the prefecture will not lead to a drastic reduction in the burden on local people.
Onaga is a staunch opponent of the government’s push for relocation within the prefecture. In the mayoral race, he challenged the government by fielding Keichiro Shimura as a candidate.
Abe argues that “Issues concerning national security must be decided by the whole nation, not through an election in one community.” But he stepped up his support for the incumbent by sending former cabinet ministers and senior executives of the ruling parties to this local election.
Sakima’s victory will give the government greater confidence in moving the Futenma base to Henoko and accelerate relocation work.
But the government should not hastily conclude that the Henoko relocation plan has been endorsed by the citizens of Ginowan. During the election campaign, Sakima called for avoiding having the base become a permanent fixture, but did not directly advocate promoting the Henoko relocation plan.
The results of the latest race should be acknowledged as a local message calling for removing the danger that the U.S. military facility poses to the local people, not a green light for moving it to Henoko.
In Okinawa, opponents to the Henoko relocation plan have won all the races, including the Nago mayoral election, the gubernatorial election, and the general election for the prefecture’s four single-seat constituencies.
The Abe government should respect the public will and not aggressively push forward the Henoko relocation plan. It should stop driving a wedge among local people by saying that the relocation of the Futenma facility will not be realized unless a new U.S. military facility is built in the prefecture.
What the people of Ginowan and Okinawa want is an “island without U.S. military bases.” (Slightly abridged)