NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga said Wednesday he will run in the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November, on a platform of opposition to the planned relocation of a U.S. military base within the prefecture.
“To meet the expectations of people is what a politician should aim to do at the end of the day,” Onaga told the Naha Municipal Assembly. “Japan’s security should be ensured by sharing (the burden of hosting U.S. military bases) as a country. Okinawa has reached its limits and cannot shoulder more,” said the 63-year-old Onaga.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, 75, is expected to seek another term in the Nov. 16 race. Last December, Nakaima gave the go-ahead for landfill work to build a replacement facility in Nago for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in densely populated Ginowan.
Onaga previously serve as secretary-general of the Liberal Democratic Party’s local chapter in Okinawa. The mayor is expected to cut into Nakaima’s support base, and secure backing from the Social Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party.
The Futenma transfer is a sensitive issue in Okinawa, where anti-U.S. military sentiment runs deep. Onaga’s supporters hope to keep the momentum going, after candidates opposed to the relocation maintained a majority in Sunday’s Nago assembly election.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Wednesday the election’s outcome will have no impact on the central government’s ongoing construction work to build an alternative base in Nago, thanks to Nakaima’s approval. Thus the controversy over the alternative base “has already become an issue of the past,” Suga argued at a regular news conference.
“I don’t think this will be a focal issue of the election,” he said.
Governors have the authority to approve or reject reclamation projects in their prefecture, which was considered a potential obstacle for the central government’s Futenma relocation plan.
Nakaima apparently gave the green light for the reclamation in exchange for a promise from Tokyo to inject more development funds into the prefecture.
At the news conference, Suga also pointed out that Japan and the U.S. have agreed to relocate about 9,000 of the 20,000 U.S. Marines now stationed in Okinawa to U.S. bases in Guam and elsewhere outside Okinawa, but only if the alternative base is constructed in Nago.
“We need to remove danger from the Futenma base as early as possible,” Suga said.
The Japanese government has promised financial support to Okinawa and vowed to reduce the burden on the prefecture from hosting the bulk of U.S. installations in Japan so that the long-stalled transfer, first agreed on in 1996, will move forward.
Calling for a prefectural referendum on the relocation issue, Mikio Shimoji, a 53-year-old former state minister in charge of the privatization of the postal services, will also vie for Okinawa governor.