Iwakuni’s mayor quits; will run in February election
Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara, an outspoken critic of U.S. -Japan military realignment plans, resigned Wednesday after a budget battle related to the expansion of the Marine base next to the city.
The city assembly rejected Ihara’s plan to use local money to complete its new city hall instead of using Japanese government subsidies, which are available only if the city accepts the planned realignment of U.S. forces.
“The assembly took the city’s finance as a hostage, demanding me to accept aircraft to receive subsidies from the government,” Ihara said.
Ihara indicated he would run in the February mayoral election, seen as a public referendum on realignment.
“There has come a time when both of us, myself and the assembly, [need] to seek the judgment of the citizens,” he said. “I am going to run for the election to ask again the will of the people.”
Ihara opposes plans that will move carrier-based aircraft and thousands of military personnel and family members to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station from Naval Air Facility Atsugi in the coming years.
Iwakuni’s city government remains one of the last holdouts against the realignment plan and the opposition — mainly from Ihara — has cost the city billions of yen in government subsidies.
The money is needed for the ongoing construction of a costly new city hall. Ihara failed five times to convince the city assembly to pass a supplemental budget that bucks the dependence on national funding.
Ihara said he learned Wednesday city lawmakers were again poised to reject his budget, so he submitted his resignation to the assembly chairman.
The Marine Corps air station had nothing to say publicly about the resignation.
“It would be improper for us to comment on local politics,” said base spokesman Maj. Guillermo Canedo. “We have a decades-long positive relationship with the city of Iwakuni.”
The Japanese government offers subsidies to municipalities as an incentive for hosting U.S. military facilities and training.
Iwakuni was among the communities excluded from the recipient list after Ihara refused to accept the aircraft and personnel from Atsugi.
Meanwhile, Ihara said he faces a city assembly dominated by members who support the buildup.
Ihara said the plan to move as many as 59 aircraft to Iwakuni is “appalling” because the city already has accepted new refueling planes and helicopters at the base over the past decade.
“I, as well as people in Iwakuni, support the presence of the air station and U.S. Japan security alliance,” he said. “What we object is the high-pressure tactics of the central government, using carrots and sticks.”