A city assembly election expected to influence Okinawa’s gubernatorial election in November and the central government’s plans to build a replacement for the controversial Futenma base kicked off Sunday in Nago.
Dominating the campaign is the question of what to do about the replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma now being constructed at Camp Schwab, in Nago’s Henoko district.
Work began in mid-August on the offshore portion of the facility, which was approved by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in December.
The governor’s decision sparked anger in Okinawa — and Nago especially — which re-elected anti-base Mayor Susumu Inamine in January, resisting a massive last-minute push by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration to install a pro-base leader.
Voting will take place Sept. 7, with 35 candidates vying to fill all 27 seats in the Nago Municipal Assembly.
Like Inamine, the current Nago assembly is opposed to the Henoko base, passing a resolution in June that called on Tokyo and Washington to scrap the land reclamation plan.
A poll of the 35 Nago candidates by the Okinawa Times on Sunday showed that 19 oppose the land reclamation project, and only four support it.
But two developments could affect the outcome. Henoko fishermen’s groups are now supporting the base in exchange for cash subsidies from Tokyo. There is also a chance that Abe and the Okinawa chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party, whose members are split over the Henoko relocation, can influence the results.
Whatever happens in Nago, the outcome is likely to affect the governor’s election. The LDP is now split between Nakaima, who’s looking for a third term at age 74, and 53-year-old Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga, a former Nakaima ally who is now against the Henoko plan and has the support of a number of local LDP leaders.
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