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US base move casts big shadow over election in Okinawa

By ERIC JOHNSTON | Japan Times (Tribune News Service) | Published: December 3, 2014

TOKYO — Just two weeks after voters elected a governor opposed to moving U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, in the northern part of Okinawa Island, the saga is once again the central political issue in the prefecture.

The Nov. 16 victory of former Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga, who ran on an anti-Henoko platform against incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who was heavily backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party, reinvigorated opponents of the base relocation.

Onaga’s supporters said even before his victory was announced that their next goal is to unseat LDP Lower House members who, like Nakaima, agreed to the Henoko move. The new governor is likely to support all candidates, regardless of party affiliation, running against the LDP.

There are nine candidates for Okinawa’s four single-seat districts. In the No. 1 district, which includes Naha and the southern area where the U.S. military presence is much less than in other parts of the main island, the race is a virtual repeat of the December 2012 election.

LDP incumbent Konosuke Kokuba, 41, is pitted against Mikio Shimoji, 53, who ran in last month’s gubernatorial election. The Japanese Communist Party is fielding Seiken Akamine, 66.

Kokuba, whose family owns Kokuba Gumi, Okinawa’s largest and most politically influential construction conglomerate, had originally opposed relocating the Futenma base to Henoko. But, after pressure last year from the Abe administration, he and the other Okinawan LDP representatives agreed to accept the plan.

Kokuba is running on a purely economic platform, promising to ensure continued central government funding for various public works projects within the prefecture.

Shimoji, a former Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) member who has the support of Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party), is emphasizing the importance of growth through local initiatives, and his ability to be Okinawa’s negotiator in Tokyo.

Futenma is located in Ginowan, in the Okinawa No. 2 district.

Social Democratic Party-backed veteran lawmaker Kantoku Teruya, 69, is being challenged by LDP-backed Masahisa Miyazaki, 49.

While Teruya has clearly opposed Henoko, Miyazaki has made little mention of the relocation, talking about local projects like new sports and medical facilities for the Ginowan area.

And in Okinawa’s No. 3 district, which includes Nago and the Henoko area, the race is between incumbent LDP member Natsumi Higa, 56, and Denny Tamaki, 55, a former Lower House member running with Seikatsu no To (People’s Life Party).

The Okinawa No. 4 district includes the outer islands.

Kosaburo Nishime, 60, is the incumbent LDP candidate, and he’s running against Toshinobu Nakazato, 77, an independent.

Former Naha mayor Takeshi Onaga defeated incumbent Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima Sunday to become Okinawa's next governor. Onaga staked his candidacy on blocking the relocation of MCAS Futenma flight operations north to Camp Schwab. He has also called for a smaller U.S. military presence on the prefecture's main island.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TAKESHI ONAGA

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