A conservative candidate on Sunday won the mayoral election in Okinawa Island’s Ginowan City, the site of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma. The election was held after the head of the Okinawa Defense Bureau made a controversial pre-election move in connection with the relocation of Futenma’s functions to less-populated Henoko in the north of the island.
Irrespective of the election result, the central government should promptly and severely punish the bureau chief, Mr. Ro Manabe, who on Jan. 23 and 24 improperly lectured 68 bureau workers who reside in Ginowan on the election.
He told them not to abstain from voting and explained the nuanced differences in the stance on the Futenma issue between the two candidates: Mr. Atsushi Sakima, who became the new Ginowan mayor with the support of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, and former Ginowan Mayor Mr. Yoichi Iha, supported by the Japan Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and Okinawa Shakai Taishu-to, a local Okinawan party.
It is unethical for a high-ranking bureaucrat like Mr. Manabe to lecture subordinates on a specific election. It is not far-fetched to say that the lecture participants must have tried to surmise Mr. Manabe’s true intentions or must have felt somewhat pressured by him. He admitted to an Okinawan prefectural assembly member that he had wanted bureau workers to be able to explain the government’s position on the Futenma issue to their relatives. A key principle in democratic elections is that all citizens — including government workers — must be able to think about elections and decide on who they will vote for without pressure or veiled guidance. In this sense, some might say that Mr. Manabe even deserves to be sacked for trying to influence the political views of the bureau workers.
Both Mr. Sakima and Mr. Iha called for the military facility at Futenma to be moved outside Okinawa Prefecture, although Mr. Iha was more aggressive. With a margin of some 900 votes, Mr. Sakima, also backed by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, became the first conservative mayor in Ginowan in 26 and a half years. Apparently many Ginowan voters supported his call to improve the city’s economic and social welfare conditions.
But if the central government thinks that Mr. Sakima is receptive to the Henoko plan, it would be a mistake. It should not forget the simple fact both he and Gov. Nakaima both call for the transfer of the Futenma air station to a place outside Okinawa Prefecture.
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