“The Suga-Sato team smashed the Inamine administration in Nago.”
In the Nago mayoral election on Feb. 4, in which the relocation of the Futenma Air Station to Henoko, Nago, was the issue, incumbent Mayor Susumu Inamine, who has consistently opposed the relocation, lost to Taketoyo Toguchi, a neophyte candidate supported by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Komeito, and Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party], by about 3,400 votes.
Based on the polls conducted by media organizations before the election, a heated contest had been expected, but a government source explained that behind Inamine’s crushing defeat was that “collaboration between Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Soka Gakkai’s vice president for political affairs Hiroshi Sato worked effectively.”
Although Toguchi served for five terms as a Nago City Assembly member, he was not well-known. Yet he won an impressive victory over Inamine by some 3,400 votes. The reason is while Komeito’s Okinawa chapter had allowed its members to vote freely in the previous election, it decided last December to endorse Toguchi, thus giving 2,000-3,000 Soka Gakkai votes to him. Suga and Sato’s close cooperation behind the scenes was decisive for this victory.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe does not get along with Komeito leader Natsuo Yamaguchi, so the two are unable to communicate adequately. Therefore, Suga, who has strong connections with Soka Gakkai, Komeito’s main support group, has long served as the coordinator for the LDP-Komeito coalition government. On the other hand, the key person on the Soka Gakkai side is its vice president for political affairs Sato, a graduate of Kyoto University.
Close teamwork between the two played a major role during the stalemate in ruling party talks on a reduced consumption tax rate for certain items in late 2015. It is an oft-repeated story that through final coordination between Suga and Sato, the government ended up accepting Komeito’s proposal with no revisions, despite the resistance of the Finance Ministry and the LDP tax commission. Flawless team play between the two again proved effective in the Nago mayoral race.
Actually, there were reservations in Komeito. The party headquarters in Tokyo supports Futenma relocation, but its Okinawa chapter maintained its support for relocation out of Okinawa or out of Japan. It was feared that if the party turned to supporting Toguchi, who condones Henoko relocation, and lost the election, Soka Gakkai organizations in Okinawa would be devastated. In the end, Komeito and Soka Gakkai burned their bridges and made all-out efforts to campaign in the Nago election.
Before the official start of the campaign, Soka Gakkai President Minoru Harada made a rare visit to Okinawa to persuade Gakkai members, particularly female members, who were opposed to Henoko relocation. After the start of the campaign, Sato took command at the campaign office, sometimes even scolding LDP Diet members for not working hard enough. Coordination between Suga and Sato was common knowledge among the officials of the Toguchi campaign.
During the seven days of the official campaign, Gakkai members and staff members of the Komeito headquarters assembled in Nago from all over Japan. Even Tokyo Metropolitan Assembly members who parted ways with the LDP in the assembly election last July came to help with the campaign.
The victory in Nago amounted to smashing the opposition force “All Okinawa Council” and demonstrated once again the power of the Komeito-Soka Gakkai vote-gathering machine. Kantei under Abe now owes them a major debt of gratitude.
The main battle in Okinawa will be the gubernatorial race this fall. What sort of team play will Suga and Sato show in this election? Victory is now unlikely without the Gakkai’s votes. It would seem that Kantei is becoming increasingly addicted to Komeito and Soka Gakkai. (Slighlty abridged)