Flip-flop: LDP Okinawa branch backs Nago base

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Reversing a campaign pledge, the Okinawa chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party now supports replacing the Futenma base in Ginowan with a new airstrip in Nago, bowing to intensifying pressure from Tokyo, Okinawa-based LDP members and local businesses seeking to profit from constructing the new base.

The decision, made Wednesday, came soon after the five LDP Diet members from Okinawa agreed to support the plan to build a new base in Nago’s Henoko district. The plan has long been stalled due to strong resistance throughout Okinawa. All 41 towns and villages in the prefecture have expressed opposition to building the replacement base.

Masatoshi Onaga, head of the LDP prefectural chapter, justified the about-face by saying LDP Diet members had said that if opposition to the Henoko plan continued, Futenma would never be closed. “The prefectural chapter will pursue a policy based on the content of the agreement reached by the Diet members,” he said.

The new policy will be officially adopted by all local LDP members at a meeting next week. On Friday, Onaga will travel to Tokyo to meet with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba to convey the decision.

Ishiba has pushed particularly hard for Okinawa to accept the Henoko plan, while Suga said he welcomed the prefectural chapter’s change of heart. But the central government is also stepping up pressure on Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima to quickly approve an application to start filling in offshore areas for the Henoko runways.

Nakaima, despite public statements opposing the Henoko project, is believed by his supporters to be fundamentally in favor of it. And while there are indications he could make a decision before the end of the year, the governor also said he might wait until after the Jan. 19 mayoral election in Nago. That election pits current anti-base Mayor Susumu Inamine against two LDP candidates favoring the Henoko plan.

In addition, Nakaima faces pressure from pro-Henoko members of the business community and their political allies.