The recent Nago City mayoral election was held with the issue of relocating Marine Corps Air Station Futenma as the major point of contention. The incumbent mayor who has been opposed to the relocation was defeated by a first-time candidate. However, it seems premature to take it that the local residents of Nago City and the people of Okinawa Prefecture has accepted the relocation.
The Abe administration must be thinking that the replacement of incumbent Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine should be a good factor to accelerate the relocation work as the mayor has opposed the relocation of Futenma airfield from its current location in Ginowan City to Henoko in Nago City. The day after the election, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the press that he is “really glad that we won the election,” expressing a sense of relief.
In order to support Taketoyo Toguchi who defeated the incumbent mayor, the Abe administration sent senior officials of the administration, including Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, Liberal Democratic Party Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and LDP Chief Deputy Secretary-General Shinjiro Koizumi. In the previous mayoral election, the junior coalition partner Komeito’s Okinawa prefectural chapter allowed its members to vote at their discretion, but in the latest election, the chapter officially backed Toguchi. The ruling parties made unprecedented efforts, considering it was a mayoral election.
An Okinawa gubernatorial election is scheduled for November this year. Incumbent Governor Takeshi Onaga strongly opposes the Henoko relocation. Whether Onaga should be reelected or not will be called into question in the scheduled election. The Abe administration is probably thinking to itself that Inamine’s defeat will spur a momentum for unseating Onaga.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to discern from Toguchi’s victory whether the local residents have accepted the Henoko relocation. This is because, although Toguchi received all-out support from the Abe administration, he did not clearly say in his election campaign that he would accept the Henoko relocation.
Instead, he tried not to focus on the relocation issue as a point of contention and emphasized the revitalization of regional economy, which seems to have won the citizenry’s hearts and minds.
Komeito’s Okinawa prefectural chapter, which officially backed Toguchi in the latest election, maintains the stance of opposing the Henoko relocation. The party, in its policy agreement to recommend Toguchi, says: “We will seek to move the U.S. Marines out of the prefecture or Japan.”
As such, Toguchi should take the policy agreement seriously and address the relocation issue. The Abe administration should no longer push ahead with the relocation work on the grounds of the election results.
On Feb. 2, asked why Okinawa’s base-hosting burden has not been alleviated, Abe stated in his Diet reply, “We have been unable to gain understanding from municipalities on the mainland for hosting U.S. bases.” The lack of understanding from the mainland municipalities should not be used as an excuse to impose the base-hosting burden on the people of Okinawa. It is only natural that Governor Onaga should oppose the government by saying, “It is unreasonable to make light of Okinawans.”
The Futenma air station has yet to be returned to Japan. This might be attributable to the administration’s failure to stand close to the hearts and minds of the Okinawa people.
Regional development is an important task not only for Nago City but also for municipalities across the country, which suffer from depopulation and aging. The administration should stop using such forceful means to have municipalities accept the base-hosting burden in return for regional development.