Anti-US mayor leads in Okinawa mayoral vote
A Japanese politician opposed to US military presence on Japan’s Okinawa Island is leading the mayoral vote in Nago.
The Nago mayoral election, slated for February 4, has become an epicenter of the battle between the ruling party — Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) — and rival parties opposed to US military presence in the country.
Mayor Susumu Inamine, 72, who is an independent backed by a number of political parties and supported by Governor Takeshi Onaga, is a staunch opponent to US military presence in Okinawa.
LDP-backed Aketoyo Toguchi, 56, who is a former member of Nago’s municipal assembly, is seeking to oust the popular Mayor Inamine, who already has served two four-year terms.
Japan’s central government and Okinawa authorities have been at odds for years over a plan — first agreed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996 — to relocate the US Marines’ Futenma air base from an urban part of Okinawa to the less-populated Henoko district of the northern city of Nago.
Anti-US proponents such as Inamine and Onaga oppose the move and want Futenma’s functions moved off Okinawa entirely.
Many Okinawa residents associate the US military presence with crime, pollution, and accidents, and resentment has been rekindled by a spate of incidents involving US military aircraft.
Japanese protesters have staged a sit-in trying to obstruct the construction of a new American base on the southern island of Okinawa.
A win for Toguchi would make it easier for Abe’s government to move ahead with the relocation plan.
Work is underway for construction of a Futenma replacement facility, but the Nago mayor’s approval is needed for some aspects so Inamine could cause further delays if re-elected.
Sixty nine percent of Nago voters responding to a Yomiuri survey said that Futenma’s functions should be moved off Okinawa entirely; 17 percent said the original plan should go ahead.
Inamine is leading Toguchi in the polls, according to media reports published on Monday.