NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Keiko Itokazu, 65, who opposes the government’s plan to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a new airstrip in a less-populated part of Okinawa Island, won an Upper House seat Sunday by defeating Liberal Democratic Party candidate Masaaki Asato.
The Okinawa electoral district gained attention after the local LDP chapter made a campaign pledge that differed from the one issued by LDP headquarters in Tokyo. The chapter called for the replacement base to be built outside Okinawa, while the HQ reiterated its pledge to move it in Nago further north on the island.
The results reflect Okinawa’s strong opposition to the base plan, but because the LDP won big in Sunday’s Upper House election, local residents are holding out little hope that Itokazu’s victory will change the situation.
After media reports around 9:30 p.m. Sunday said Itokazu, chairwoman of Okinawa Shakai Taishuto (Okinawa Social Mass Party), was sure to win an Upper House seat, Kazuma Oshiro, the head of her election campaign, shared his joy by shouting, “Prime Minister Abe, this is the voice of the Okinawans.”
But once reporters started asking questions about the base replacement plan, Itokazu developed a hard expression.
“Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima should accept the will of the people,” she said, urging the governor to turn down the government’s request to fill in offshore areas off Nago’s Henoko coast to accommodate the planned runways for the replacement airstrip.
During the election campaign, the LDP’s Asato, 45, also pledged in his platform pamphlets to work to ensure Futenma’s replacement base will not be situated in Okinawa, saying he wouldn’t have a chance to win if he promised otherwise. But he avoided the topic when traveling around making speeches.
Meanwhile, Itokazu focused her criticism on the central government.
When Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Naha on July 16 to stump for the LDP, Itokazu campaigned nearby.
“The LDP head office and we shared the same urgency for the need to relocate the Futenma base due to its dangerous nature, but the measures we took were different,” Asato told supporters after his defeat.
Although Asato lost, Masatoshi Onaga, head of the LDP Okinawa chapter, said he will continue to push for the Futenma base to be removed from the prefecture.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine also said the people of Okinawa are unwavering in their demand that no replacement base be built in the prefecture. But the LDP is expected to push ahead with the current plan.
Despite Itokazu’s victory, residents in Ginowa, where the Futenma base is located, no longer have any expectations for the government.
“I want the Futenma base to be relocated somewhere else,” said a local woman, 41.
A 69-year-old woman said: “I want the Futenma base to be relocated outside the prefecture, but I don’t think it will happen. The central government has ignored everything we have asked for.”