Base foe Inamine to be next Nago mayor

Stance against Futenma may further strain U.S. ties

by Mariko Yasumoto

Kyodo News

NAGO, Okinawa Pref. — Base-relocation opponent Susumu Inamine was headed for victory in Sunday’s mayoral race in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, making it unlikely the city will host a U.S. Marine Corps base Japan and the United States formally agreed to relocate in 2006, late projections by Kyodo News showed.

The local race was being closely watched by Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama, who said he will factor the result into his decision on whether to relocate Futenma air station from the densely crowded city of Ginowan further north to less-crowded Nago, or transfer it outside the prefecture.

The transfer to Nago was agreed to in a bilateral accord Japan and the United States signed in 2006.

Late projections showed that Inamine, 64, was set to beat his sole rival, Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 63, who has expressed willingness to accept the existing plan if the government led by Hatoyama’s ruling Democratic Party of Japan decides to fulfill the bilateral accord.

Under the 2006 deal reached with Japan’s previous government, which was led by the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, Nago, which has a population of about 60,000, would build a new heliport base along the coast of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Camp Schwab near the Henoko area to accommodate Futenma.

Inamine campaigned until Saturday, vowing not to allow another base into Nago and to finally end the long-standing dispute, which has long divided the city.

Shimabukuro meanwhile made virtually no mention of the relocation issue, arguing that it is a matter neither a mayor nor the local people should decide on.

Instead, he highlighted the achievements of his four-year term, including the creation of 1,000 jobs by luring companies from outside the city and maintaining economic stability by taking advantage of base-related subsidies provided by the state.

Inamine was running as an independent but had support from the DPJ and its coalition partners — the Social Democratic Party and the People’s New Party — and the Japanese Communist Party.

Shimabukuro, also running as an independent, had the backing of two opposition parties — the LDP and New Komeito.

Since the result could have a bearing on the Futenma issue, however, the DPJ apparently refrained from taking a leading role in Inamine’s campaign, unlike in local elections before the pivotal House of Representatives election last August.

In the meantime, Shimabukuro’s office turned down overtures for campaign speeches from LDP Diet members, including former Defense Minister Yuriko Koike, citing the sluggish popularity of the once-dominant ruling party, which was crushed by the DPJ in the Lower House election.

Inamine also drew support from civic groups opposed to the construction of a new U.S. base, while Shimabukuro was largely backed by construction firms that have benefited from and expect to continue benefiting from state subsidies and related public works projects.

Among the 44,896 eligible voters, 14,239 residents, or around 30 percent, cast early ballots, according to the city’s election board.

In Tokyo, Hatoyama repeated last week that his administration would conclude negotiations on the Futenma issue with the U.S. by the end of May.

Since taking office last September, the 62-year-old leader has been evasive on the issue, which has been widely viewed as straining Japan-U.S. ties.