NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. - Opposition lawmaker Denny Tamaki hinted Monday that he might enter the Okinawa gubernatorial race next month at the request of a group opposed to the U.S.-Japan relocation plan for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
If the four-term Diet member and secretary-general of the Liberal Party decides to run in the Sept. 30 election to replace late Gov. Takeshi Onaga, the race is likely to turn into a duel with former Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, who is backed by Tokyo.
“I have to make preparations for my (campaign promises), including what will become the pillars of my policies,” Tamaki, 58, told reporters in the city of Okinawa. The former radio personality said he will likely reach a decision later in the week after consulting his supporters.
The focus of the contest will be the central government’s plan to move the air base from crowded Ginowan further north to less populated Henoko, a coastal district of Nago. Both are on Okinawa.
Tamaki, a four-term member of the House of Representatives whose constituency includes the Henoko region, was asked to run Sunday by a group consisting of local politicians and others who dislike the relocation plan.
Shortly before Onaga, a fierce opponent of the base plan, died of pancreatic cancer on Aug. 8, he recorded a message designating Tamaki and local businessman Morimasa Goya as candidates to succeed him, according to local political sources.
Goya, who operates a retail and construction business called Kanehide Group, backs Tamaki as a candidate, the sources said.
Sakima, 54, resigned as mayor of Ginowan on Saturday to run in the election. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s conservative Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito are accelerating efforts to assist him.
The central government believes the contentious relocation plan, which Tokyo and Washington have been unable to complete for decades, is the “sole solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base while keeping the perceived deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. alliance in place.
But many residents of Okinawa, which despite its size hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, hope the base will be removed from Okinawa altogether because of continuing accidents and crimes linked to U.S. military aircraft and personnel.
On Sunday, Shigenobu Asato, 48-year-old chairman of a local logistics company who had expressed his intention to run, told reporters he will instead back Sakima, a move that would form a united front among LDP-led conservatives.