On Oct. 10, the start of the official campaign period for the House of Representatives election, the Japanese Communist Party’s (JCP) candidate in the first district of Okinawa, Seiken Akamine, stated in his first stump speech: “Let us work for the victory of the All Okinawa Council from the first to the fourth districts, so that the Abe cabinet will not be able to fight the popular will in Okinawa.” He kept repeating the phrases “All Okinawa Council” and “popular will.”
The All Okinawa Council is the force supporting Governor Takeshi Onaga, who opposes the relocation of the Futenma Air Station (in Ginowan City) to Henoko, Nago City. In the last Lower House election in 2014, it defeated the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) candidates in all four districts of Okinawa, riding on Onaga’s victory in the gubernatorial election that took place shortly before that. All Okinawa wants to repeat that victory in this election, which it regards as a prelude to Onaga’s reelection as governor in fall 2018.
However, All Okinawa relies heavily on the JCP and the anti-base groups in the campaign, so it actually does not have a high profile.
The Akamine camp’s clamoring about “popular will” actually reflects its anxiety. Although 500 people has gathered for Akamine’s speech (according to the campaign office), their applause was weak.
Onaga also stressed at a gathering of the All Okinawa Council in Naha City on Oct. 10: “We will again confront [the Tokyo government] with the popular will.” Onaga’s popularity is also beginning to wane.
The situation surrounding the All Okinawa Council has changed drastically in the past three years. Its candidates lost to LDP candidates in all three mayoral elections held this year and Onaga supporters also failed to capture a majority of seats in the Naha City Assembly election in July.
Behind this loss of momentum is that “the conservatives supporting the All Okinawa Council have emerged from the ‘fantasy’ of blocking Henoko relocation and are returning to the LDP,” according to a senior official of the LDP Okinawa chapter.
For this reason, the Akamine camp is adopting the strategy of avoiding projecting the JCP image as much as possible. “JCP” is not even printed on the signboard of his campaign office. He presents himself instead as a representative of the All Okinawa Council.
On Oct. 11, 32 municipal assembly members in Okinawa supporting Onaga launched a new “conservative middle-of-the-road” policy group, which is meant to water down the reformist image and prevent the conservatives from defecting. This also reflects a sense of insecurity.
Meanwhile, the LDP regards the Lower House election as an opportunity to “take back at least two single-seat districts,” according to the above LDP official. This is because taking at least half of the seats will deal a blow to the All Okinawa Council, which claims to represent the “popular will in Okinawa.”
The LDP’s top priority is the first district, which includes Naha City, Onaga’s home constituency. This was the only single-seat district in Japan in which the JCP was able to win in the last election. If the LDP loses in this constituency, it might affect security policy amid heightening tensions in the North Korea situation.
Before the start of official campaign, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga personally phoned Konosuke Kokuba, the LDP’s official candidate in this district, and strongly told him “to win by all means.”
In his speech at the ceremony kicking off his campaign on Oct. 10, Kokuba stated: “This is a choice between the LDP-Komeito coalition government and the All Okinawa Council led by the JCP. The LDP and Komeito are the only ones able to take the responsibility to resolve various issues.”
Last April, the LDP Okinawa chapter changed its policy on reducing Okinawa’s base-hosting burden from “pursuing all possibilities” to “accepting Henoko relocation” to do away with its previous ambiguous position and clarify the point of contention. Kokuba campaign officials feel that “the mood is entirely different from last time.”
However, a unfortunate incident occurred on Oct. 11, the day after the start of official campaign. A large U.S. transport helicopter stationed at the Futenma base made an emergency landing in Higashi Village and burst into flames. Anti-base sentiments among the Okinawans will disadvantage the LDP. Policy Research Council Chairman Fumio Kishida, who was in Okinawa, cancelled his plan to make speeches on Oct. 12. He met with Onaga and made frantic efforts to respond to the situation. A senior official of the Kokuba campaign lamented , “All we can do is to persevere in appealing for the need to realize Henoko relocation in order to remove the danger posed by the Futenma base.” (Slightly abridged)