Pro-base candidates stay in Nago race

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima continues to call for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, in central Okinawa, to be relocated outside the prefecture despite growing pressure to OK a project to fill in coastal areas in the Henoko district of Nago to accommodate the planned replacement airstrip’s runways.

Meanwhile in Nago, which will have a mayoral election Jan. 19, two candidates advocating the replacement base failed to agree to merge their campaigns, creating concern in Tokyo that the incumbent, Susumu Inamine, 68, who opposes the plan, will be re-elected.

On Thursday, Nakaima repeated before the prefectural assembly earlier calls to relocate Futenma outside of Okinawa, saying this would be the quickest way to end the danger posed by the base.

“The current (Futenma replacement) agreement between Japan and the U.S. will take time. An early suspension of Futenma’s operations and elimination of its danger would be difficult. The central government needs to indicate a sound plan for an early relocation,” Nakaima said.

“Transferring Futenma to an existing runway in another prefecture is logical and will lead to an early solution of the problem,” he added, referring to an Okinawa study earlier this year suggesting that dozens of airports in Honshu and elsewhere could take over Futenma’s operations.

Asked about his 2010 campaign promise to push for Futenma’s replacement to be outside Okinawa, Nakaima, who will be up for re-election next year, said he will keep pressing his case.

Nakaima has said he will decide sometime next month, most likely after the Nago mayoral election, whether he will approve the central government’s application to fill in the Henoko coastal areas.

The poll will pit Inamine against Bunshin Suematsu, 65, a Liberal Democratic Party member in the prefectural assembly and a former vice mayor in Nago, and Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 67, an ex-Nago mayor who lost the 2010 election to Inamine. The LDP is backing Suematsu.

Suematsu and Shimabukuro met Wednesday for the first time since declaring their candidacies.

The meeting ended with both sides declaring they would not end their campaigns, prompting Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to say Thursday that, from the government’s point of view, there should be only one candidate advocating the Nago base.