Base relocation, local economy biggest issues in Okinawa gubernatorial race

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Land reclamation work is seen in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, in April.

Key issues in the Okinawa gubernatorial election campaign that kicked off Thursday are the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station from Ginowan to Nago and measures to boost the local economy, which has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The three main challengers, incumbent Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, former Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima and former House of Representatives member Mikio Shimoji spent the first day of the campaign addressing voters on the streets and online to drum up support.

Tamaki, who is backed by both left-wing and conservative forces in the All Okinawa political bloc that opposes the base relocation, launched his campaign in Uruma, his hometown.

“I’ve made opposition to the relocation plan my central platform,” said Tamaki.

Born to a father who served in the U.S. military and a Japanese mother from the prefecture, Tamaki was raised in a single-parent household of modest means. “I will realize a society where no one is left behind,” he said to the crowd.

Meanwhile, at an election rally in front of Okinawa city hall in Naha, Sakima vowed to work with determination and conviction to protect the livelihoods of people in the prefecture.

Sakima is backed by the administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who heads the Liberal Democratic Party. Touting his connections to the national government and ruling parties, he expressed his willingness to support tourism and secure a budget for the prefecture’s development.

The chairperson of the LDP Party Organization and Campaign Headquarters Yuko Obuchi, who was out campaigning with Sakima, said “Okinawa can overcome the economic crisis.”

In a reversal from the previous gubernatorial election, Sakima now backs the plan to relocate the base to the Henoko district in Nago.

“Let’s put an end to the issue and move forward with proposals to utilize the vacated land after the relocation for something that benefits the future,” he said.

Shimoji, a former minister in charge of postal system reform in the administration of the now-defunct Democratic Party of Japan, launched his campaign in an area around the Henoko district, with his speech livestreamed on a video-sharing site.

“There is no future for Okinawa without solving the problem of Henoko,” he said, standing at the gates of the U.S. military’s Camp Schwab.

Shimoji opposes the land reclamation work off the coast of Henoko and has called for moving part of the U.S. military’s training activities to Mageshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture, where plans are underway for the construction of a Self-Defense Forces base.

Shimoji, who is taking his second consecutive shot at the governorship, served six terms in the lower house as a member of the LDP, People’s New Party and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party).