Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai went to Okinawa on Sept. 3 to boost the unity of the party’s support groups ahead of the Okinawa gubernatorial election (official campaign period starts on Sept. 13, voting on Sept. 30). This is partly because the LDP-endorsed candidate is falling behind in the campaign, but another reason he was even willing to skip the inauguration ceremony of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s campaign headquarters for the party’s presidential election to take this trip is that he wants to remain in his post as secretary general after the party election.
Dressed in a kariyushi shirt [Okinawan-style shirt similar to an aloha shirt], Nikai visited the Miyako land improvement district in Miyakojima City on Sept. 3 and called for support for former Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 54, the candidate endorsed by the LDP, Komeito, and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party). The land improvement district is a staunch LDP support organization and Nikai is the chair of the National Federation of Land Improvement Associations. This marked the beginning of a Nikai-style campaign in which he relies on groups he has close connections with in an effort to unite LDP-affiliated groups.
Nikai plans to visit Okinawa again next week. The Nikai faction (Shisui-kai) has set up its own campaign headquarters for the gubernatorial election to provide substantial support to Okinawa. Secretaries of the faction’s Diet members were divided into four teams, which take turns being stationed in Okinawa to pay visits to the support groups.
Nikai is putting a lot of energy into the campaign because the gubernatorial race is increasingly becoming an election to honor Governor Takeshi Onaga, who passed away recently, which puts the ruling parties at a disadvantage. An opinion poll conducted by the LDP in late August shows that Sakima was trailing House of Representatives member Denny Tamaki, 58, the candidate supported by the All Okinawa Council consisting of the opposition parties and some conservatives, by more than 10%.
If Sakima were to lose this election, it would certainly affect the government’s plan to relocate the Futenma Air Station (in Ginowan City) to Henoko, Nago City. The gubernatorial race is also taking place shortly after the LDP presidential election, so an electoral defeat could mean an ominous start for Abe’s third term as LDP president.
Nikai is well known for achieving the victory of the ruling party candidate in the Niigata gubernatorial race last June by mobilizing the secretaries of the Nikai faction lawmakers for the campaign, even though the candidate was reported to be lagging behind at first. This victory boosted his reputation as “a secretary general who knows how to handle elections.” By duplicating this victory in the Okinawa election, Nikai wants to lay the groundwork for keeping his job as secretary general, which he still wants to do.