How can the future of Okinawa Prefecture be envisioned through gubernatorial election campaigns? Candidates should hold fruitful debates based on realistic policy perspectives.
The campaigning for the Okinawa gubernatorial election, which was arranged following the death of Gov. Takeshi Onaga, has kicked off. The election is effectively a one-on-one battle between former Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, a candidate recommended by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and two other parties, and former House of Representatives lawmaker Denny Tamaki, who is supported by the opposition camp. Voting and ballot-counting are set for Sept. 30.
Onaga won the previous gubernatorial poll four years ago by emphasizing his policy of opposing the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station from the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district in the city of Nago, and set the anti-relocation stance as the pillar of his prefectural governance. He locked horns with the central government, filing lawsuits repeatedly.
Tamaki is backed by the so-called All Okinawa group consisting of organizations including those opposing the relocation plan. He put forth the stance of carrying on Onaga-style prefectural governance, saying in his first campaign speech, “Taking over the wishes of the late Onaga, I won’t let a new base be built in Henoko.”
Sakima, on the other hand, said: “Nothing can be generated from confrontation and division. Politics is bargaining.” His assertion is taken to mean that he will seek to find a point of compromise through negotiations, thereby ending confrontation with the central government. He did not refer to the advisability of the Futenma relocation plan.
In mayoral elections in the cities of Nago, Ishigaki and Okinawa held this year in the prefecture, the candidates supported by the ruling parties, among others, defeated those backed by the opposition camp. The LDP aims to win the gubernatorial election, too, thereby promoting the Futenma base relocation plan steadily.
Revving up economy vital
The Futenma Air Station is a pivotal base to sustain U.S. Marine Corps activities, but it poses a risk of accidents due to its location in an urban area. The Henoko relocation is the only concrete option to reduce the risk of harm to residents around the base while maintaining the deterrence of the U.S. military.
Since the 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement on the return of the Futenma base, the advisability of the relocation plan has been the point of issue in gubernatorial elections.
The realignment and reduction of U.S. bases in Okinawa should be carried out meticulously by the central government as part of its national security policy while obtaining the understanding of prefectural residents. However, there are not a few residents who find it strange that gubernatorial elections have repeatedly had the approval of the Henoko relocation plan as the bone of contention.
Based on the thinking of the late Onaga, the prefectural government last month withdrew its approval for the reclamation work off Henoko. The central government is putting its response measure on hold. Its decision not to needlessly muddy the waters of the gubernatorial poll is understandable.
More than 70 percent of U.S. bases in Japan are concentrated in Okinawa Prefecture. While proceeding with the reduction of the prefecture’s burden of hosting U.S. bases, measures must be discussed calmly from a wide perspective to enrich the prefecture.
The per capita income of Okinawa residents is the lowest in the nation. Its rate of nonregular workers is high, too. It is essential to revitalize the prefectural economy by undertaking such projects as infrastructure improvement and industrial promotion in a comprehensive manner, thereby enhancing the lives of prefectural citizens.