NAHA – Official campaigning started Sunday for a mayoral election in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, in what is widely seen as a battle between Tokyo and Okinawa over the contentious relocation of a key U.S. military base within the island prefecture.
Mayor Atsushi Sakima, who is seeking a second four-year term in next Sunday’s election, has the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner, the Komeito party.
Sakima, 51, is being challenged by Keiichiro Shimura, a 63-year-old former senior official of the prefectural government with no party affiliation.
The Marine Corps Air Station Futenma sits in a crowded part of Ginowan. Due partly to noise pollution and concerns over the risk of accidents involving aircraft that use the base, Japan and the United States are seeking to relocate it to a less densely populated area within the same island.
Land used for the base is supposed to be returned to Japanese control once the relocation is completed as agreed on by the two countries. But construction of the replacement facility in the Henoko coastal area of Nago has run into stiff local resistance.
Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who has bristled at the concentration of U.S. military bases in the prefecture, is engaged in a legal battle with the central government, seeking to stop the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe from building a new base in the coastal area.
Sakima has focused on realizing the swift shutdown of the Futenma base and its return to Japanese control, without mentioning the contentious relocation to Henoko in a concrete manner.
He has also pledged to bring a Disney resort to the area now used for the Futenma base.
Shimura, meanwhile, has put his opposition to the Henoko relocation at the center of his campaign, saying he will seek unconditional closure of the Futenma base and the return of its land in coordination with the governor, assembly members and civic groups opposed to the current relocation project.