CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Nago voters on Sunday elected the only mayoral candidate willing to accept a new Marine air station in northern Okinawa — as long as some changes are made.

Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 59, supported by outgoing Mayor Tateo Kishimoto and the Liberal Democratic Party, was declared the winner about five minutes after ballot counting began Sunday night. He eventually gathered more votes than the other two candidates combined.

The election was seen as a key indicator of whether a bilateral plan for realigning U.S. troops in Japan can succeed. A key part of the interim realignment report signed by U.S. and Japanese officials in October is a plan to replace Marine Corps Air Station Futenma with a smaller facility to be built on Camp Schwab and reclaimed land in Oura Bay.

During a victory speech following his election, Shimabukuro, the former city assembly chairman, said he opposes the plan but is willing to negotiate with the central government to find an acceptable alternative.

He received 16,764 votes, according to the results released Sunday. His two opponents, Munehiro Gakiya, 59, and Yoshitami Oshiro, 65, both campaigned against any move of Marine air operations within Okinawa.

Gakiya, backed by the Japan Communist Party and other opposition parties, received 11,029 votes; Oshiro, backed by various anti-base and environmental groups, had 4,354. About 75 percent of the eligible voters cast their ballots, an election board official said.

“I hope to deal with the base issue by consulting closely with the local residents,” Shimabukuro said. He told reporters he felt the air station in the Henoko district of Nago, where Camp Schwab is located, would be an economic boost to northern Okinawa — but only if it can be moved “slightly” from its planned location to avoid some homes close to the base.

“The present plan is absolutely unacceptable, but if a revised plan that is satisfactory to the local communities is proposed, I will negotiate with the central government while closely working together with the local communities,” he said.

During the campaign, Shimabukuro said he supported construction of a 1.12-mile runway about 2,600 feet south of the current Camp Schwab plan’s site. His site requires more land reclamation in Oura Bay but avoids having a flight path over local businesses and homes, he claims.

“The biggest issue in this election was to make clear the intention of voters on a new military facility to replace Futenma operations,” said Kishimoto, who served as Shimabukuro’s campaign manager.

He stressed that many Okinawans were upset that no local input was sought in drawing up the plan for the Camp Schwab air facility.

“We need to coordinate with the prefectural government,” he said. “The director general of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency told us earlier that the government would make a sincere effort to discuss the issue with us.

“If the central government would propose a plan that is satisfactory, there is no other choice for us but to go ahead with the plan because that is what got (Shimabukuro) elected,” Kishimoto said.

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