Iwakuni voters re-elect mayor opposed to realignment plan
After winning Sunday’s election, Iwakuni Mayor Katsusuke Ihara wasted no time renewing his pledge to oppose the plan to relocate U.S. carrier-based aircraft to Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni from Naval Air Facility Atsugi.
Ihara, 55, also was mayor before the city merged with neighboring municipalities March 20.
At a news conference Monday, according to Teruyuki Urayasu, director of the city’s military liaison office, Ihara said: “I will continue to demand that the central government withdraw the plan.”
Responding to the election results, Iwakuni base spokesman Maj. Stewart Upton said Monday: “As you know, we did not have any involvement with local politics as a local U.S. military base. Our job is to follow the agreements made between the U.S. government and the government of Japan.”
However, he said, local relationships and communication with cities and prefectures is vital to understanding “as well as our positive relations.”
“We know that with the win by Katsusuke Ihara on Sunday, we will be working with someone that we have successfully communicated and worked with in the past,” Upton said. “We feel very comfortable in that regard and congratulate him on his victory.”
On March 12, before the merger, Ihara initiated a city referendum in which a majority of voters said “no” to the realignment plan to relocate the U.S. carrier-based aircraft wing at Atsugi to Iwakuni. The plebiscite was nonbinding on Japan’s government.
“In response to the result of the referendum … I am resolved to oppose the move,” Ihara said.
“The outcome of the election proves that my appeal was supported by voters. I will continue to tenaciously negotiate with the central government.”
In Sunday’s election, Ihara tallied 54,144 votes, defeating Taro Ajimura, a 38-year-old independent who supports Tokyo’s realignment stance and amassed 23,264 votes, and Kiyoyuki Tanaka, a 49-year-old company president who finished last with 1,480 votes and who has demanded MCAS Iwakuni be closed entirely. Voter turnout was about 65 percent, down from about 70 percent in the 2003 mayoral election.