AKITA – An independent candidate opposed to the central government’s plan to deploy a U.S.-developed missile defense system in Akita Prefecture defeated the ruling party incumbent in the Akita district in Sunday’s Upper House election.
Shizuka Terata, 40, was jointly fielded by the main opposition forces in Akita, where a geographical survey conducted by the Defense Ministry to assess suitability for the deployment of the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system was later found to be faulty.
Terata beat Matsuji Nakaizumi, 40, a first-term lawmaker who ran for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.
The neck-and-neck race attracted attention as it was seen as a de facto referendum on the proposed deployment of the missile system. The system is set to be deployed in a Ground Self-Defense Force training area in the Araya district of the prefectural capital, which is located on the Sea of Japan.
Reflecting the government’s desire to press ahead with the deployment, Abe and his right-hand man, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, delivered stump speeches in Akita.
Both Tokyo and Washington were closely monitoring the outcome of the race. A U.S. Embassy source in Tokyo said the ruling party candidate’s loss could hamper the system’s deployment in Japan.
The Defense Ministry has sought to deploy the system, aimed at countering the threat of North Korean missiles, in Akita and in Yamaguchi prefectures.
But the plan to host the system came under fire in the run-up to the Upper House election after numerical errors were found in the ministry’s geographical survey used to select Akita as a candidate site.
The Aegis Ashore deployment is unpopular among residents due to concerns about damage to health from radar and electromagnetic waves, as well as fears that the system could become a target in an armed conflict.
Shizuka Terata is the wife of Lower House lawmaker Manabu Terata, an independent representative affiliated with the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan. During campaigning she pledged to block the deployment while choosing not to declare a party affiliation, in the hope of gaining support from unaffiliated voters.
The LDP’s Nakaizumi criticized the Defense Ministry but did not clarify whether he supported the deployment of the defense system.
The LDP had secured a seat in the Akita district in the past three Upper House elections.