/

Nago mayoral election likely a two-horse race

JIJI

Two candidates started campaigning Sunday for the Jan. 19 mayoral election in Nago, underscoring their conflicting positions on a controversial U.S. military base relocation plan in Okinawa Prefecture.

The closely watched mayoral election is likely to be a one-on-one contest between the two independents — Bunshin Suematsu, a 65-year-old former prefectural assemblyman who argues that Nago should host the planned replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, and Susumu Inamine, 68, who is seeking a second four-year term based on his persistent opposition to moving the base from heavily populated Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago.

Suematsu is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, while Inamine is backed by the Japanese Communist Party, People’s Life Party, Social Democratic Party and a local political party.

The campaigning will center around the long-stalled plan, which was approved in a 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement.

In a landmark decision late last year, Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved the central government’s application for landfill work in Henoko needed to build a Futenma replacement facility.

Suematsu hopes to improve residents’ lives by making use of economic revitalization steps pledged by Tokyo in exchange for hosting the planned facility.

But Inamine has vowed to prevent a new base from being built in Henoko. Criticizing the governor’s approval of the landfill work, Inamine aims to block it by refusing to approve use of ports and rivers the city manages.

This will be the sixth Nago voter verdict on the Futenma plan. Nago citizens rejected it in a December 1997 referendum, but candidates who backed the plan won the next three consecutive mayoral elections.