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Opinion: Ginowan mayoral election and Futenma relocation

  • 2016-02-09 15:00:00
  • , Mainichi
  • Translation

(Mainichi: February 9, 2016 – p. 10)

 

 By Keiichi Sato, Naha Bureau

 

 Incumbent Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 51, who was supported by the government and the ruling parties pushing the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Nago City, was reelected in the Ginowan election on Jan. 24. He defeated the neophyte candidate Keiichiro Shimura, 63, supported by Governor Takeshi Onaga — who opposes Henoko relocation — by a significant margin (27,668 votes to 21,811 votes). The government sees this as the breakdown of the popular will in Okinawa against Henoko relocation. It is now poised to proceed with relocation.

 

 However, was there really a breakdown of popular will in this election? The citizens cast their votes torn between the desire to see the early return of the Futenma base and uncertainty about whether it is right to dump the base somewhere else in Okinawa. If the government fails to understand such mixed sentiments and pushes hard for Henoko relocation, its gap with Okinawa will widen further.

 

 With U.S. military aircraft flying over their heads day and night, the early return of the Futenma base is the Ginowan citizens’ common wish. For this reason, both Sakima and Shimura called for early return and termination of base operations in five years, as the government promised to the previous governor. The only difference between the two was their position on Henoko relocation. Shimura formed a united front with the governor in opposing relocation, while Sakima did not take a clear stand.

 

 Why did Sakima achieve a resounding victory? Mainichi’s exit poll on election day showed that 56% of voters were “opposed” to Henoko relocation. Normally, this would have meant an advantage for Shimura. Yet, 23% of those opposed to Henoko relocation voted for Sakima. While 55% of respondents “disapproved” of the government’s posture of promoting Henoko relocation, nearly 30% of them voted for Sakima.

 

 The poll results reflected the mixed feelings of citizens hosting the Futenma base. During the election, voters had often said: “Why is Henoko an issue in Ginowan’s election?” or “The relocation site is decided by the government. I will decide based on who will make our lives better.” In other words, while the citizens are opposed to Henoko relocation, they are also driven by the thought that the “danger” threatening them on a daily basis needs to be removed as soon as possible. Therefore, a certain number of people did not make Henoko relocation the basis for their choice; rather they went for the incumbent mayor who had done a good job. This resulted in the unexpectedly large margin of victory.

 

 In light of the election results, the government has asserted that what Onaga claims to be “unanimous opposition” in Okinawa to Henoko relocation is “very far from the truth,” in the words of Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga. It would appear that it is trying to give the Japanese people the impression that popular will in Okinawa has shifted to supporting Henoko relocation. Yet, as indicated by the citizens’ mixed feelings and the exit poll results, popular will as shown in the Ginowan mayoral election does not support Henoko relocation but demand for the early return of the Futenma base. The government’s claim of the breakdown of popular will against Henoko relocation is meant for the mainland, for the purpose of deflecting criticism of the Abe administration’s “high-handedness.” This is precisely an indication of its posture of not listening to Okinawa and proceeding with Henoko relocation arbitrarily.

 

 It is almost 20 years since the Japanese and U.S. governments agreed on Futenma’s return in April 1996. Okinawa had been divided time and again whenever elections were held. Is Henoko relocation really the only option? The government and the mainlanders should not turn a blind eye to the unfairness of forcing Okinawans bearing an excessive base-hosting burden to make a choice all the time. They must answer the question: “Is it normal that the Japan-U.S. security alliance imposes its burden only on Okinawa?” (Abridged)

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