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In proxy battle over Futenma base relocation, Ginowan mayor wins re-election

by

Staff Writer

Backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the ruling coalition, Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima won re-election Sunday night, defeating his opponent in what was seen as a proxy battle between Abe and supporters of a controversial base relocation plan and opponents of the plan, including Okinawa’s governor.

Sakima’s opponent was Keiichiro Shimura, a 63-year-old former prefectural official who had the support of Gov. Takeshi Onaga and the opposition parties.

At issue was the fate of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which occupies roughly 25 percent of Ginowan. Both candidates agreed the base had to be closed.

During his campaign, Sakima avoided taking a direct position on moving it further north to the coastal Henoko district of Nago as mandated by a bilateral agreement with the U.S.

He called only for the early return of the land the base occupies.

Shimura, on the other hand, wanted Futenma closed and relocated, but not to Henoko. That is also the position of Onaga and a broad coalition of Okinawa politicians and citizens.

Speaking to reporters after Sakima’s victory was declared, Onaga said that there would be no change in his opposition to the Henoko relocation.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani welcomed Sakima’s victory.

“Mayor Sakima has made efforts to avoid having Futenma being stuck in Ginowan,” Nakatani said.

He added that the government will continue to move forward with the planned Henoko replacement facility in order to have all of the land Futenma occupies returned and in order to reduce Okinawa’s base burden.

With Sakima’s victory, Abe and the LDP have gained, if not a strong ally, then at least a Ginowan mayor not backed by Onaga. This, they hope, will pressure the governor and the broad coalition of anti-Henoko politicians and citizens who support him to rethink their confrontation with Tokyo over the issue.

In addition, Abe and the LDP hope Sakima’s victory will have a ripple effect in June, when prefectural assembly elections are held. The majority of assembly members oppose the Henoko plan.

Sakima’s win was likely due to numerous factors.

Exit polls show him winning a substantial number of nonaffiliated voters. In addition, Abe, the LDP and Komeito refrained from heavy-handed support of him during the campaign.

In January 2014, just before the Nago mayoral election, LDP heavyweight and regional revitalization minister Shigeru Ishiba visited the city on behalf of the LDP-backed candidate and promised ¥50 billion in public works funding if voters chose the party’s preferred candidate.

Nago voters instead re-elected anti-base Mayor Susumu Inamine, and even pro-Henoko voters in Nago heavily criticized Ishiba’s effort.

Last month, it appeared history might repeat itself when Sakima met with Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga to seek Tokyo’s support for a plan to build a Disney Resort facility after Futenma is moved. Suga endorsed the idea, but it is not clear if Disney did. However, this time, senior LDP figures stayed out of Ginowan during the campaign.

Shimura and his supporters dismissed Sakima’s plan and Suga’s reaction as last-minute pandering by Tokyo to get votes for Sakima and reminiscent of Ishiba’s failed tactic in Nago. But the message was not enough to convince a majority of Ginowan voters to back Shimura.

  • Liars N. Fools

    Ginowan is its own Disneyland. Get Futenma out of there soon. Accident waiting to happen — again.

  • solodoctor

    How unfortunate that the voters in Ginowan failed to think of themselves as members of the larger family of Okinawans. Instead of voting in support of their brothers and sisters in Henoko who oppose the relocation of the base there they only thought of their own desires to get Futenma closed.

    • Tachomanx

      Have you seen a picture of the base and the city? The place is basically dead center in it with war jets, cargo planes, helicopters and who knows what else?!

      If I lived there I too would seek to see it gone and have something useful be done with the base.
      Plus the owners owned compensation and return of the land must also be very impatient by now.

      At least the Henoko base won’t be right in the middle of a city.

      • jwtn

        I have lived in ginowan, the conditions are absolutely horrible, Its time for the marines to leave Okinawa, they should have left along time ago. But don’t worry it doesn’t matter what the okinawan people want, their just objects in the way of 2 outside occupiers who look down upon them and view them as a tool. When I served in Okinawa it was obvious that they were just being screwed over by the us military.

      • Tachomanx

        And the next in line would China to do them over and worse.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

      • Tachomanx

        It’s called the vengeance of geography and their sheer bad luck of being squeezed between great powers on one side of the other,

        Were Japan and the U.S. to leave, do you really think China would respect it’s territorial integrity? Already scholars and militaries from China have claimed that Okinawa and the entire chain belong to China.
        And I bet they wouldn’t be any better than the japanese/americans. Afterall, Okinawa would be a great place to have a base with which to threaten Japan and the U.S.

        That so called argument of being the middle nation that guarantees peace and stability is nothing but a pipe dream that no serious strategist would consider given China’s behavior towards the smaller neighbor.
        There is a reason why Russia fears too much China in it’s Far East. Okinawa would be staring into the dragon’s maw and with no one to help it.

        Sure the okinawans got the short end of the stick but until the world stage shifts in a significant and unexpected way, their fate will continue to be that of the world’s other strategic regions facing similar dilemmas and hardships.

        Futenma needs to go and the new location don’t have people, that much is a better condition than the current one.

      • jwtn

        What needs to go is the United States Marine Corps, their needed nor welcome in Okinawa. What needs to change is America’s discriminatory colonial attitude towards the Ryukyuan people. If the Japanese still want us, then maybe its time for the marines to move to mainland Japan and force the japanese to pay the price for their own security. These plans are completely unrealistic and more likely to permanently destroy are relationship with Okinawa, then they are to secede. To tell you the truth Henoko has a large population as well in the city of Nago. Maybe its time to respect democracy and just leave, like we should have done a long long time ago. This is something that america should be embarashed about.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

      • jwtn

        So what your saying is that their land is more important to you then the people.

    • Tachomanx

      Have you seen a picture of the base and the city? The place is basically dead center in it with war jets, cargo planes, helicopters and who knows what else?!

      If I lived there I too would seek to see it gone and have something useful be done with the base.
      Plus the owners owned compensation and return of the land must also be very impatient by now.

      At least the Henoko base won’t be right in the middle of a city.

  • Doubting Thomas

    Regardless of the controversy over the perceived danger/burden of the base, or the issue of Okinawan sovereignty, I am curious to see what will happen to the local economy when the biggest employer / economic stimulus pulls up and leaves.

    • jwtn

      The us military is not the biggest employer and has not been for a very long time. Maybe its time to respect democracy and just leave. I can’t believe that my country would treat someone else this incredibly poorly.

  • Steve van Dresser

    So, where are the numbers? The projections I have seen were based only on the absentee ballots. How big was the final margin?