• Jiji


The recent spike in coronavirus infections is expected to impact the Jan. 23 mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.

Despite the race's importance as the first in a series of major elections in Okinawa this year leading up to the gubernatorial election in fall, the resurgence has kept officials of national political parties on the sidelines.

Some in the central government fear that the resurgence of infections may also affect the government's plan to relocate a U.S. military base to the city's Henoko coastal area.

The Nago mayoral election is likely to be fought between incumbent Taketoyo Toguchi, 60, supported by the ruling bloc in the national politics, including the Liberal Democratic Party, and Yohei Kishimoto, 49, a city assembly member supported by the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, as well as by Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki.

Kishimoto, a first-time candidate, is campaigning against the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a congested area of Ginowan to Henoko, while Toguchi has not taken a side and is avoiding the issue altogether.

The LDP, which views the race as a toss-up, had been planning to send party Secretary-General Toshimitsu Motegi to the prefecture to attend a rally for the Toguchi campaign Wednesday. Motegi had previously visited Okinawa last November.

Taro Kono, chairman of the LDP's Public Relations Headquarters and former minister for issues related to Okinawa, was also scheduled to visit the prefecture to stump for Toguchi on Sunday.

But both canceled their trips in light of the rapid increase in coronavirus infections in the prefecture.

The ruling bloc had been struggling in key Okinawa elections in recent years, but wrested the prefecture's No. 3 constituency, which includes Nago, in the election for the House of Representatives, last autumn. It hopes to win the Nago race and build momentum for the triennial election for the House of Councilors in the summer and the gubernatorial election.

The ruling side hopes that victories in the elections will make it easier to push forward the base relocation.

However, the spike in coronavirus infections in Okinawa is creating a headwind, especially due to its connection to U.S. bases in the prefecture. The surge in infection cases in Okinawa is believed to have been caused by lax anti-infection measures taken by the U.S. forces, with Tamaki telling reporters on Thursday that "U.S. bases are a major cause" for the infections.

A government source warned that the inadequate U.S. measures will fuel public interest in the base issue.

"Everyone thinks, 'What is the U.S. military doing,'" a senior LDP official said. "If (the issue of infections) becomes tied to the base relocation plan, the mayoral race will be difficult."

Meanwhile, opposition party officials are also staying away from Okinawa due to the coronavirus resurgence, after CDP policy chief Junya Ogawa and Akira Koike, head of the JCP's secretariat, visited the prefecture last month and on Wednesday, respectively.

In a news conference on Friday, CDP chief Kenta Izumi stressed the need to review the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, which has been pointed to by some as a key factor behind the U.S. forces' failure to take stringent coronavirus measures.

"We will argue that prefectural residents' lives and health must be protected," he said.

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