Residents of the city of Nago, Okinawa, on Sunday elected as their new mayor a candidate who opposes the 2006 Japan-U.S. accord to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps air station at Futenma, in Ginowan city on the central part of the island, further north to Henoko, which is part of Nago. The victory of Mr. Susumu Inamine testifies to the expectations of Okinawans — heightened following the change of government last September — that the Futenma functions will be moved outside their prefecture.
Candidates who accepted the Henoko plan had won the past three Nago mayoral elections. Mr. Inamine’s victory reverses this trend, and suggests Nago citizens are skeptical about local economy-promotion projects that the central government has pushed in exchange for the city’s acceptance of the Futenma functions. According to a Kyodo News exit poll, 55 percent of voters do not think that the building of a new U.S. base will help develop Nago’s local economy.
The election result will increase pressure on the Hatoyama administration to find a new site for the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture. Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has said that his administration will decide on a new site by the end of May, with deliberations starting from a “zero base,” meaning that the Henoko plan is not excluded. But it is clear that opting for the Henoko plan has become extremely difficult.
The three parties forming the coalition government are supposed to decide, by early February, candidate sites to which the Futenma functions could be moved. The United States strongly favors the Henoko plan. But no matter where the government decides as the best new site, there is no guarantee that local governments and residents around that site will accept the plan.
There is not much time left for Mr. Hatoyama. He should directly involve himself in the selection of a new site and exercise strong leadership to settle the matter. Otherwise he will have to accept the worst-case scenario of the air station continuing to sit in the middle of the urban area of Ginowan.
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