The Liberal Democratic Party is facing difficulty in selecting a candidate for the Nago mayoral election (to be held on Feb. 4, 2018), in which the relocation of the U.S. Marines Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago, will become a point of contention. A Nago city assembly member, who is seen as a pro-relocation force, is enthusiastic about running in the race. However, the prefectural chapter of the Komeito party is reluctant to support this person due to its opposition to the relocation plan. The government is growing jittery about the delay in selecting a candidate as it attaches the importance to the mayoral election, which will become a preliminary race for the prefecture’s gubernatorial election in the autumn of 2018.
On Aug. 23, incumbent Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who is opposed to the Henoko relocation plan, announced his intention to seek a third term in office. On Aug. 29, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his irritation about the delay in the selection of an LDP candidate for the race when he met with senior members of the LDP Okinawa chapter.
The government and the LDP are hoping for a gubernatorial race in which they will go head-to-head with incumbent governor Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the Henoko relocation plan. In Okinawa, LDP candidates won the mayoral races in Miyakojima, Urasoe, and Uruma one after another this year. The party cannot afford to lose the Nago race because it needs to build momentum for the gubernatorial election.
The LDP candidates clinched their victories thanks to Komeito’s support. But the Okinawa chapter of Komeito opposes the relocation and takes a different stance from its head office and the LDP. Due to this difference, candidates who focused on revitalizing the local economy rather than the base issue in their election campaigns won public understanding. But in 2014, LDP candidates who ran [in the gubernatorial race and the general election] under the pro-relocation banner failed to win Komeito’s backing and were defeated.
Taketoyo Toguchi, a LDP assembly member in Nago, is enthusiastic about running in the mayoral race. At a July 31 press conference, he noted, “I will closely watch the lawsuit that the prefecture filed against the central government,” and remained noncommittal about the relocation plan, but he has promoted the relocation in the past. “If Toguchi’s past remarks are discussed again, the election campaign will become difficult,” said a senior Komeito member. “We would like [the LDP] to field a candidate whom we can support wholeheartedly.”
Toguchi was scheduled to announce his candidacy on Sept. 8, but put it off. The LDP is growing jittery as it is not sure about whether it can win Komeito support. “It is true that we did not hold prior consultations with Komeito, but it is also true that we don’t have any promising candidate [besides Toguchi],” said a person close to the LDP. (Abridged)