Okinawa Gov. Tamaki reelected to 2nd term

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki celebrates his reelection in Naha on Sunday.

NAHA — Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki was reelected Sunday for a second four-year term, garnering more votes than the other two challengers combined.

One of those challengers, Atsushi Sakima, was backed by the national ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, but failed to defeat Tamaki for the second gubernatorial election in a row.

Tamaki’s victory marked the third time in a row that a candidate opposing the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture to the Henoko coastal district in Nago won the gubernatorial race.

Despite the election results, the central government intends to stick to the current relocation plan and proceed with the construction work.

During the election campaign, the most contentious issue was over the base relocation. Tamaki, 62, continued to stress that “relocation is impossible” within Okinawa, instead calling for the base to be moved overseas or outside the prefecture. Sakima, the 58-year-old former Ginowan mayor, emphasized his stance to accept the central government’s relocation plan.

Tamaki is supported by the All Okinawa group, whose members include both conservatives and reformists, while national opposition parties — the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, Reiwa Shinsengumi and the Social Democratic Party — endorsed him.

“The results show that the thoughts of people in the prefecture have not wavered even a millimeter,” Tamaki said in Naha on Sunday night after his reelection. “Given the mandate from these prefectural people, I will make demands on the central government.”

Tamaki received 339,767 votes to Sakima’s 274,844, while former postal reform minister Mikio Shimoji, 61, was named on 53,677 ballots. Out of 1,165,610 eligible voters, 57.92% turned out to vote in the election, down from 63.24% in the September 2018 election.

In December 2018, the central government began pouring earth and sand into the Henoko coastal area and continued to proceed with land reclamation work. In November 2021, Tamaki did not approve the central government’s application for changes in the design of the planned landfill work to improve the ground after the seabed was found to be weak. Tamaki’s decision has led to a lawsuit that the Okinawa governor has vowed to fight to the end. The situation could cause delays in the relocation that the central government had expected to complete in the 2030s.

Besides the relocation issue, the candidates also debated measures to boost the prefecture’s economy, which has been battered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Tamaki highlighted his achievements during his first term, including measures against child poverty.

Sakima had aimed to wrest control of the prefecture back to a governor supported by the LDP and Komeito after eight years under governors backed by national opposition forces. LDP executives were among Sakima’s supporters who visited Okinawa to help his campaign. Some observers, however, said that public backlash over issues such as the LDP’s ties to the Unification Church, which is formally known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, had a negative impact on Sakima.

A by-election was also held Sunday to fill a vacant seat in the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly. A never-before-elected candidate who supports Tamaki won the race. As a result, pro-Tamaki members of the assembly now outnumber all others.