In Okinawa, anti-base mayor’s re-election sends a message

NAGO CITY, Japan – In Okinawa’s Nago City mayoral election which centered on the plan to construct a new U.S. military base in the city, anti-base incumbent Inamine Susumu won with a wide margin over a pro-base candidate backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic (LDP) and Komei parties. This marks Okinawan people’s historic victory.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga Yoshihide during the election campaign said, “The planned construction of a new base will not be affected by the election results.” After the election, he also expressed his intention to push forward with the plan. Carrying out procedures for the base construction in defiance of Okinawan people’s will undermines the principle of democracy. The national government should take this election result seriously and give up the construction plan.

Inamine obtained 4,000 more votes than his rival. Nago mayoral elections were held five times after the Japanese and U.S. governments announced the plan in 1996 to relocate the U.S. Futenma base in Ginowan City to the sea area off Nago’s Henoko district. This was the first election in which a conservative candidate clearly called for the promotion of the construction plan and challenged the opponent rival to a one-on-one fight. In this election, Inamine successfully secured his second term by increasing the number of votes from the previous election.

The Abe administration repressed the LDP prefectural federation, which called for the relocation of the Futenma base to outside Okinawa, and put pressure on Okinawa Governor Nakaima to approve the reclamation work of the Henoko district by using state subsidies as bait. During the election campaign, Prime Minister Abe and the ruling LDP pushed Okinawa to accept the construction plan using a carrot and stick approach. LDP Secretary General Ishiba Shigeru, who says the government will decide where to build a new U.S. base, visited Nago City to announce that the government will provide the city with 50 billion yen in special subsidies. This remark provoked fierce anger from local citizens.

Okinawans are opposing the new base construction based on their bitter experience in the Battle of Okinawa at the end of the Asia-Pacific War when many residents were killed. Okinawa was kept under U.S. occupation for 26 years after the end of the war and is still experiencing hardships due to the concentrated presence of U.S. military bases. It is impossible for them to accept the plan to construct a new base in the prefecture as it will increase the sufferings of local people. The Abe administration should listen to the residents and give up the construction plan.

Photo: Photo: Nago City Mayor Susumu Inamine, third from right in front, celebrates after he was re-elected in the mayoral election in Nago, on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, Jan. 19, 2014. The election was being closely watched from Washington to Tokyo as a referendum on the plan to move the U.S. Futenma air base to this community of 62,000 people. AP/Kyodo News