In Sunday’s Okinawa gubernatorial election, incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima defeated the former mayor of Ginowan — site of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma — Mr. Yoichi Iha. Mr. Nakaima has called for relocating the Futenma base outside Okinawa Prefecture but leaves room for negotiations with the central government, while Mr. Iha has called for relocating the base outside Japan.
Because Mr. Nakaima does not clearly say he opposes relocating the base inside the prefecture, the election results must have come as a relief to the Kan administration. But it would be overly optimistic for the government to believe it can achieve a quick breakthrough on the Futenma issue.
Mr. Nakaima, who was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and Your Party, had in the past conditionally accepted the plan to transfer the Futenma base from Ginowan in the central part of Okinawa Island to the less populated Henoko area in the northern part of the island. But in September he told the Okinawa prefectural assembly that he believes that the Futenma functions should be moved outside the prefecture.
Behind this shift is a surge in opposition among Okinawans to plans to relocate the Futenma fuctions to Henoko, which in part was fueled by former Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s vow to move the Futenma functions outside Okinawa Prefecture. When Mr. Hatoyama reversed his stance and accepted an accord in May to relocate Futenma functions to Henoko, opposition further swelled.
Mr. Hatoyama’s promise served to heighten awareness among Okinawans that they are being forced to bear a much heavier burden than other areas of Japan in terms of hosting U.S. bases. Nearly 69 percent of those polled at voting stations Sunday said they oppose the Henoko plan. The central government should rethink the plan. Forcing it upon the Okinawan people will only increase their opposition to the U.S. military presence in their prefecture.