Okinawa’s anti-base movement suffers major setback with election loss
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND HANA KUSUMOTO | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 5, 2018
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — The movement to halt the relocation of Marine air operations within Okinawa prefecture suffered a major setback Sunday when Nago’s anti-base mayor was defeated by an independent candidate backed by Tokyo.
Taketoyo Toguchi, a 56-year-old former Nago assemblyman supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, defeated incumbent Susumu Inamine, 72, by more than 3,450 votes.
“I am glad [Toguchi] won as I thought it would be tough to defeat [Inamine],” Abe said, according to the Asahi newspaper. “We will carry out [the relocation] in accordance with the Supreme Court decision with the understanding of the citizens,” he told Jiji Press.
Toguchi ran on a platform touting economic development while Inamine — a close ally of anti-base Gov. Takeshi Onaga — remained focused on blocking Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s relocation to Camp Schwab.
Nago — ground zero for the Okinawa protest movement — is home to Schwab and daily small-scale demonstrations. Construction is underway on a runway into Oura Bay that will one day facilitate the relocation.
The Japanese government and its American allies have said the relocation from a densely packed urban area in central Okinawa to a seaside plot in the island’s remote north is the only option to close and return Futenma and ensure the safety of residents. Politicians like Onaga and Inamine have advocated for relocation outside the prefecture.
Toguchi’s victory came as a surprise to many on the southern island prefecture on Monday morning, as polls right up until the election had him trailing. Inamine was running for his third consecutive term as mayor.
Toguchi remained relatively muted in victory on the base relocation issue. He said he would keep a close eye on upcoming court proceedings initiated by Onaga to block the move.
Inamine lamented that the relocation did not become the election’s central issue.
“I strongly appealed that peace, security and safety are the basis for the economy, education and social welfare, but the base issue was evaded,” he said after his defeat, according to the Mainichi newspaper.
Onaga said voters did not understand that economic development in Nago cannot happen without first ensuring “peace and safety.”
“Development of Nago city will not stand when there are Osprey flying,” he said, according to the Mainichi report. “It was not understood [by the voters] since it didn’t become the point of the election.”
Analysts and local media reports suggest that Inamine’s loss might not bode well for Onaga, who loses a crucial ally in the northern part of the island prefecture. He is also up for re-election later this year.