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Analysis of newspaper editorials on results of Ginowan mayoral election

  • 2016-02-03 15:00:00
  • , Mainichi
  • Translation

(Mainichi: February 2, 2016 – p. 11)


 By editorial writer Chiyako Sato


 Incumbent Ginowan City Mayor Atsushi Sakima, who enjoyed the full support of the Abe administration, won a resounding victory in the Jan. 24 mayoral election in this city hosting the Futenma Air Station.


 This was a high profile election regarded as a “proxy war” between the Abe administration and Governor Takeshi Onaga. Neophyte candidate Keiichiro Shimura supported by Onaga stood for opposition to Henoko relocation, while Sakima did not clarify his position on this issue.


 What did the election results mean? Mainichi Shimbun published an editorial on the next day stating it was “not a green-light for Henoko relocation.”


 Our reasoning was based both on discussions at the editorial board and exit polls conducted on election day.


 Mainichi’s poll showed that 56% of respondents were “opposed” to Henoko relocation, while only 33% were “in favor.” Nevertheless, 20% of the relocation opponents voted for Sakima. Topping the list of issues that were important to the voters was “Futenma relocation” (55%) and 40% of voters who were of this opinion voted for Sakima.


 It appeared that Sakima’s strategy of not taking a clear stand on Henoko relocation and not making this a point of contention was effective.


 Based on this, the editorial concluded that “the results of the mayoral election are simply a manifestation of the residents’ wish for the return of the Futenma base at the earliest date possible. It makes no sense to take them as an endorsement of Henoko relocation.” It also warned that “the central government should not exploit the Ginowan election results in forcing through the relocation work any further.”


 Other newspapers’ editorials were divided, faithfully reflecting their position on Henoko relocation.


 Mainichi, Asahi, and the two Okinawan papers, which are demanding a review of the relocation plan, offered the analysis that the election results did not mean approval of Henoko relocation.


 On the other hand, Yomiuri and Sankei, which support relocation, concluded that the notion that “Henoko relocation is more realistic” has gained broader acceptance and asked that the government go ahead with the plan.


 The relocation proponents’ and opponents’ thinking is as follows:


 Security is the national government’s prerogative, and Henoko relocation has been agreed upon by the Japanese and U.S. governments. It is irresponsible to oppose relocation when no other relocation site is available. Henoko relocation is the most realistic shortcut to removing the danger posed by the Futenma base and preventing it from remaining in its current location.


 Such is the thinking behind Yomiuri’s and Sankei’s position.


 The relocation opponents take a different view.


 Security is untenable without the understanding of the people and the communities hosting the bases. Faced with strong opposition, Henoko relocation is not necessarily a realistic option or a shortcut. Other options should be considered.


 The relocation proponents focus on “realistic option,” while its opponents focus on “popular will.”


 Mainichi’s editorial took the stand that the defeat of candidates who supported relocation explicitly in the Nago mayoral election and Okinawa gubernatorial election of 2014 changed the political environment for implementing the relocation plan.


 It is of great significance that the governor, who represents the Okinawan people, and the mayor of Nago City, where the relocation site is located, are both opposed to the relocation plan. The Ginowan election has not changed this basic paradigm.


 Mainichi asserted that the understanding of communities hosting bases is essential for the stable operation of the Japan-U.S. security arrangements. Since the Henoko relocation plan does not meet this requirement, there is concern that this may actually weaken the Japan-U.S. alliance.


 How the Abe administration is implementing the relocation plan is also an important point in this debate. A number of editorials commented on this.


 Nikkei avoided commenting on the election results per se. Acknowledging that relocation within Okinawa is the most realistic option, it asked the government to make efforts to narrow its gap with Okinawa, noting that “without the cooperation of the local people, the replacement facility will not be able to operate smoothly even after it is completed.”


 As a matter of fact, even some relocation proponents are critical of the Abe administration’s approach.


 Symbolic of this is the government’s refusal to talk to Onaga for about four months after he assumed office as governor.


 The Abe administration also started landfill work unilaterally last October. Tokyo and Okinawa are now suing each other and engaged in several court battles. It seems that the government’s high-handedness has driven Okinawa into a corner.


 The court has come up with settlement proposals in the government’s lawsuit against Okinawa. In any case, this is not an issue to be settled in court.


 The relocation issue is not only about the Japan-U.S. security alliance; it is also a question of the state of democracy and local autonomy in this country. (Slightly abridged)

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