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Okinawa election year crucial for advocates and opponents of Henoko transfer

  • December 16, 2021
  • , Asahi , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

By Yamashita Ryuichi, Nishimura Keishi, and Kamisawa Kazutaka


A year of elections begins in Okinawa, starting with the Nago mayoral race in January. The transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma (Ginowan City) to Nago City and the cost burden associated with it will be a focal point in a series of Okinawa elections. The Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is sending senior members to the prefecture in support of its election efforts, and the “All Okinawa” and Governor Denny Tamaki, who oppose the transfer, are considering winning these elections crucial for the success of their movement.


Kishida gives gubernatorial election top priority


“Only the victories in various elections, including the Okinawa gubernatorial race, can ensure the stability of the administration,” LDP Election Strategy Committee Chair Endo Toshiaki stressed at a meeting with senior members of the Federation of Okinawa Prefecture LDP Branches in Naha. “The elections demonstrate the LDP’s true worth and strength.” In his mind are three Okinawa elections in 2022: the Nago mayoral race, the campaign for which starts on Jan. 16; the Upper House election in summer; and the Okinawa gubernatorial election in fall.


The LDP has sent senior leadership to the prefecture. LDP Secretary-General Motegi Toshimitu toured Nago in late November, and former Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide visited the city in early December. Suga has been deeply involved in Okinawa issues ever since he was the [Abe administration’s] chief cabinet secretary.


In the previous Nago mayoral election four years ago, Toguchi Taketoyo, a challenger who accepted the base transfer in practice, defeated incumbent Inamine Susumu, who opposed the initiative. While the LDP leadership will give full support for Toguchi as it did in the previous election, it plans to remain in the background and out of the spotlight. Although Suga attended a gathering to mark the opening of a new office of the incumbent mayor, he refrained from delivering a speech there. “[In the election campaign] general LDP Diet members will visit relevant local organizations to ask for support, rather than making campaign speeches,” said a senior LDP official. “We want to avoid drawing a picture that suggests a schism between the central government and Okinawa,” said a legislator elected from Okinawa.


The Kishida administration is putting great emphasis on the gubernatorial election in fall. With an LDP candidate yet to be named, the party is now accelerating the selection process.


In the election that followed the death of Governor Onaga Takeshi four years ago, anti-transfer candidate Tamaki Denny defeated a candidate endorsed by the LDP and Komeito. Although the Abe administration at the time began filling in Henoko bay soon after the election, a study later found the existence of soft ground that was “almost like mayonnaise” in some areas designated for the landfill. This discovery forced the government to resubmit a revised construction plan for the prefecture’s approval. Tamaki rejected the central government’s revision, raising the possibility of new litigation over the issue.


The Kishida administration hopes to secure the victory of a gubernatorial candidate who would support the base transfer so that the Henoko construction can proceed. The premier is telling those around him that starting with Nago, 2022 will be an election year for Okinawa, showing his determination to prevail.


Kishida’s resolve is reflected in negotiations over the Okinawa development budget in FY 2022. Ahead of the end-of-the-year budget compilation, senior administration officials are considering reducing the Okinawa budget to 300 billion yen for the first time in ten years. While Tamaki has expressed his wishes to maintain the budget over 300 billion yen, a source at the Prime Minister’s Office [Kantei] says: “[The reduction in the Okinawa development budget will be] a message to the prefecture that Governor Tamaki is not up to the task of squeezing money out of the central government.”


On shaky ground, All Okinawa faces crucial challenge


The series of elections are of great significance to Tamaki. On Dec. 14, Tamaki met with Nishime Kosaburo, the Minister of State for Okinawa and Northern Territories Affairs, to negotiate the Okinawa budget. After the meeting, Tamaki told the press: “Prime Minister Kishida’s strength is his ability to listen to others. If so, I hope he will launch a platform for conversation with Okinawa,” suggesting discussion of the Henoko transfer.


Meanwhile, the “All Okinawa” movement, which backs Tamaki in opposition of the Henoko transfer, is seeing its foundation erode. Recently, an important business figure who had boosted the Okinawa left the movement. In the last Lower House election, All Okinawa lost seats to the LDP in two electoral districts, including Okinawa no. 3 district, the location of Nago.


The Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ), the largest opposition party, also aims to regain strength through the Okinawa elections. In the Lower House election, the party pledged to stop the construction of a new U.S. base in Henoko. It is now poised to make an all-out effort next year in Okinawa. At a press conference on Dec. 14, CDPJ Secretary-General Nishimura Chinami said: “Three years have passed since the landfill operations started, and the construction is now at a crucial stage. We have no reason to insist on (carrying on the construction).” CDPJ Policy Research Council chair Ogawa Junya is considering attending a general meeting of the CDPJ’s Okinawa Federation, which is scheduled for Dec. 18, as well as holding an open-air town hall meeting for a dialogue with Nago residents.



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