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SECURITY > Okinawa

Selection of Okinawa gubernatorial race candidates starts based on “Henoko relocation”

  • June 27, 2018
  • , Yomiuri , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

With the schedule for the Okinawa gubernatorial election being set – start of official campaign period on Nov. 1, voting on Nov. 18 – vigorous efforts are being made to pick candidates. The government and the ruling parties, which want to push forward the relocation of the Futenma Air Station (in Ginowan City) to Henoko, Nago City, have started the coordination process, eyeing Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 53, as candidate. On the other hand, opponents of Henoko relocation are stepping up preparations for the reelection of Governor Takeshi Onaga, 67.


Sakima indicated at his fundraising party on June 26 that he was seriously thinking about running. He was reelected as mayor in 2016 with the endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, defeating the candidate supported by Onaga. On top of having close relations with the national government, his performance as mayor has been highly rated.


The candidate selection committee consisting of the LDP Okinawa chapter and other groups will decide on a candidate within this month. If Sakima will be running in the gubernatorial race, a candidate to succeed him will also have to be considered.


The government and the LDP regard the gubernatorial election as the “crucial battle” in the Henoko relocation process, and great importance is being attached to establishing cooperation by the LDP, Komeito, and Nippon Ishin [Japan Innovation Party]. The candidates endorsed by the three parties have won three consecutive victories in recent mayoral elections in Okinawa, so they would like to maintain this momentum in the gubernatorial race.


The government plans to start landfill work in waters off Henoko on Aug. 17. If it fails to grab the prefectural administration from Onaga, who has revoked the landfill permit and filed court cases to block Henoko relocation, it will continue to face constant resistance with the governor wielding his power over construction work permits, and this may seriously delay construction work.


Meanwhile, the Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party, and other groups in the prefectural government’s ruling bloc are building an organization based on the assumption that Onaga will run for reelection. They have also launched a signature campaign to call for a referendum on Henoko relocation, in an effort to arouse popular opposition to it. Onaga is also considering revoking the landfill permit as his “trump card” in resisting relocation.


However, local companies, conservative prefectural assembly members, and others are beginning to desert this organization due to its increasingly reformist posture. They have formed a separate support organization for Onaga, indicating the lack of united support for the governor.


Onaga underwent surgery for pancreatic cancer last April and is now performing his official duties while receiving treatment. He has not announced his plans for the gubernatorial race.


Onaga was absent from the prefectural assembly’s plenary session on June 25 for medical treatment and examination. Some people are beginning to say that “it would be difficult for him to run considering his physical condition,” according to an aide of his. (Slightly abridged)

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