OSAKA — The outcome of Sunday’s key election for the municipal assembly in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, may create further doubts that the agreement between Japan and the United States to move the Futenma base to the city’s Henoko district will be carried out.
Opponents of relocating the Futenma base achieved a major victory, winning a majority in the assembly.
The results announced early Monday showed 16 seats were won by candidates supported by Mayor Susumu Inamine, who strongly opposes relocation of Futenma to Henoko. Another two winners unaffiliated with Inamine have also indicated they are opposed.
The remaining winners were critical of Inamine and loyal to former probase Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, although many never made their own position on the Futenma relocation clear.
Thus at least 16, and probably 18, of the 27 assembly members are now opposed to moving the base to Henoko.
“The election clearly showed the will of the people,” Inamine said.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told reporters that despite the election results, there will be no change in the plan to relocate Futenma as stipulated in a May 28 agreement between Japan and the U.S.
“I want to accept the result as one indication of the will of Nago’s citizens. But as to specifics regarding the relocation plan and reducing the burden of the bases, the central government will continue to listen to local residents and seek their understanding for the agreement,” Sengoku said.
However, that is now much harder to do.
Sunday’s results came despite intense lobbying by the central government before the election, especially by Seiji Maehara, minister in charge of Okinawa affairs, of candidates loyal to the nominally probase Shimabukuro, who was defeated by Inamine this past January.
Maehara’s courting of Shimabukuro in particular angered many Okinawa residents, who wondered if Tokyo thought Nago had two mayors.
Sunday’s victory has given antibase activists a boost, and attention will now turn toward the Nov. 28 gubernatorial election.
On one side will be Ginowan Mayor Yoichi Iha, a friend of Inamine and a strong opponent of relocating Futenma, which currently lies in Ginowan, to anywhere within Okinawa. On the other will be incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima.
Prior to Inamine’s election, the governor indicated he might accept the Henoko relocation plan but now says he opposes it.
“I’ve said before that relocating to Henoko would be extremely difficult, and (because of the Nago assembly election results) things have moved in that direction,” Nakaima told Okinawan media. A victory by Nakaima, Tokyo and Washington hope, would at least keep the possibility of relocation to Henoko alive, assuming the necessary central government incentives and assurances are provided to the prefecture.
A victory by antibase Iha, on the other hand, would make the May agreement all but impossible to carry out, because it would likely force Tokyo to consider going over the head of the governor and enacting a special law to appropriate the land around Henoko, an action that would create a political nightmare for the central government and enrage Okinawans of all political stripes.