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Japan

Candidate who backs US forces being stationed in Okinawa likely to prevail in mayoral election

People in Nago have been divided over the issue, with some tired of the continuing clashes between the central and local governments

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 10:06pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 04 February, 2018, 10:06pm

An independent newcomer backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is set to defeat the anti-US base incumbent in the Nago mayoral election Sunday, an outcome which could give impetus to the central government’s controversial plan to transfer an airbase to the southern Japan city.

Taketoyo Toguchi’s victory in a two-man race against Susumu Inamine is also expected to deliver a blow to the anti-base campaign of Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga whose term will expire in late 2018.

Toguchi, a 56-year-old former Nago city assembly member known to be supportive of the base transfer, sought to divert voters’ attention from the base issue and promised measures to spur the sluggish local economy.

Inamine, 72, also an independent, has campaigned against the plan to move US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a coastal area of Nago from another part of the island prefecture, gaining support from the Okinawa governor and most opposition parties.

The fight is seen as a prelude to the Okinawa gubernatorial election, a crucial test for Onaga who was elected in November 2014 on a platform of opposing the Futenma relocation plan.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of US military facilities. Accidents involving US military aircraft and crimes involving US personnel have angered Okinawa residents, but gaining more economic support from the central government has also been a key issue in local elections in the prefecture.

Onaga has resorted to various measures, including legal actions, to stop the central government from transferring the Futenma base from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal area of Nago. The move has slowed progress, but construction work to build a new facility in the Henoko area is now under way.

People in Nago have been divided over the issue, with some tired of the continuing clashes between the central and local governments, which have left the issue stalled.

It is the sixth mayoral election for Nago citizens since Henoko emerged as the destination for the relocation after the Japanese and US governments agreed on the return of the land for the Futenma base in 1996. Inamine is serving his second four-year term as mayor.

The central government has maintained that the current relocation plan is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is situated close to schools and homes, without undermining the perceived deterrence provided by American troops under the Japan-U. S. alliance.