LDP-backed candidate wins Nago mayoral race amid military base issue

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Incumbent Mayor Taketoyo Toguchi, right, receives a bouquet of flowers after winning the election at his office in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sunday.

NAGO, Okinawa — The incumbent backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito was reelected Sunday in the Nago mayoral election.

In an election focused on the relocation of a U.S. Marine Corps’ air station to Nago, Taketoyo Toguchi, 60, defeated first-time candidate Yohei Kishimoto, who opposed the move.

Former city assembly member Kishimoto was backed by anti-relocation Gov. Denny Tamaki.

During the campaign, Toguchi did not bring up the relocation issue but only said, “I will watch the progress of lawsuits between the central and prefectural governments,” emphasizing his stance to promote the region in cooperation with the central government.

The central government plans to proceed as planned with the project to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture to Nago.

Okinawa Prefecture has major elections this year, including House of Councillors and gubernatorial elections. This first victory with a margin of more than 5,000 votes has given an advantage to the central government and the ruling bloc for the autumn gubernatorial election.

During campaigning, Toguchi called for the continuation of child-rearing support measures such as free school meals by allocating subsidies to municipalities for cooperating with the realignment of U.S. forces, and won support from a wide range of people, especially young voters.

The surge of COVID-19 infections had kept senior ruling coalition party members from visiting the city, but prefectural assembly members and support groups of both parties turned out in full force to win votes.

Kishimoto, meanwhile, opposed the relocation with support from Tamaki, who withdrew approval in November of a plan for land reclamation work in the city’s Henoko district where the base will be relocated, citing factors including the discovery of soft ground in the ocean area.

The recent coronavirus outbreak in the prefecture is seen to have come from U.S. military bases. Kishimoto said he would tackle the issue head-on, but he failed to win. It was a bitter defeat for All Okinawa, a local political force that opposes the relocation, including Tamaki.

On Sunday, 49,959 people were eligible to vote. Turnout was a record-low of 68.32%, down from 76.92% in the previous election.