NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Two key candidates beefed up their campaigning over the weekend, a week ahead of the closely watched gubernatorial election in Okinawa Prefecture in which the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma is a major issue.
One of the two major candidates in the governor race is Atsushi Sakima, former mayor of Ginowan, a city in Okinawa, who is supported mainly by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its Komeito ally.
The other is Denny Tamaki, a former member of the House of Representatives who opposes the government’s plan to transfer the Futenma base, located in Ginowan, to the Henoko coastal area in Nago, another city on the main island of Okinawa.
Shinjiro Koizumi, chief deputy secretary-general of the LDP, on Sunday visited the prefectural capital, Naha, to rally support for Sakima.
“They (Tamaki’s side) are serious, so we also need to shift into higher gear,” Koizumi told voters in a stump speech.
Sakima, standing beside Koizumi, vowed to revise the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, implement measures to increase incomes of local people and establish a professional baseball team in Okinawa.
Meanwhile, Tamaki delivered a speech at an event for young people in Naha.
“I absolutely oppose the construction of a new base in Henoko that will become a burden on Okinawa in the future,” he said.
At the same event, Takeharu Onaga, a member of the Naha Municipal Assembly and the second son of the late Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, said, “Young people in Okinawa need Denny for their future.”
Earlier on Sunday, Tamaki joined a kick-off event for a Ginowan mayoral election candidate, who also objects to the base transfer to Henoko.
The Okinawa gubernatorial election, set for Sept. 30, has two other candidates — former Naha Municipal Assembly member Hatsumi Toguchi and former company employee Shun Kaneshima.
The election was initially slated for November, but was moved up after Takeshi Onaga died of cancer in August.
Another key election campaigning kicked off Sunday in Okinawa — a mayoral election for Ginowan.
Former Deputy Ginowan Mayor Masanori Matsugawa, 65, and company executive Harumasa Nakanishi, 57, a former head of a union of Okinawa high school parent-teacher associations, are the contenders in the Sept. 30 election to fill the post vacated by Sakima, who is running for the gubernatorial election to be held the same day.
The outcome of the two elections could influence the future of the plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to Henoko.
Backed by the LDP, Matsugawa is seeking the prompt closure of the Futenma base due to safety concerns and the return of its land to Japan. But he has not clarified his stance on the plan to relocate the base to Nago.
“(The Futenma base) is located in the center of our city and we’re living in severe conditions. I will resolve this problem,” Matsugawa said in his first campaign speech.
Nakanishi decided to run in the mayoral race after being tapped by local members of the opposition Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party. He has expressed his opposition to relocating the base within the prefecture.
The Futenma base “is disturbing our lives and preventing our economic growth and I demand its immediate closure. But I oppose the new base in Henoko,” said Nakanishi at a rally to kick off his campaign.
According to a Japan-U.S. accord, land used for the Futenma base will be returned to Japan once the relocation is complete. But construction of the replacement facility in the Henoko district has met with stiff local resistance.