Futenma base biggest issue in Okinawa governor race

Yomiuri Shimbun photos
Denny Tamaki, left, Atsushi Sakima, center, and Mikio Shimoji

NAHA (Jiji Press) — The advisability of relocating a key U.S. base within Okinawa Prefecture will likely be the biggest issue in the Sept. 11 Okinawa gubernatorial election.

Incumbent Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, 62, who opposes the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station within Okinawa, and Atsushi Sakima, 58, a former mayor of Ginowan who tolerates the relocation, are set to clash in the closely watched poll, as they did in the Okinawa gubernatorial election four years ago.

This time, Mikio Shimoji, 60, a former member of the House of Representatives who opposes further reclamation of the planned base relocation site, is also slated to join the Sept. 11 election.

The government is working to move the Futenma base, now in a congested area in Ginowan, to the Henoko coastal district in the city of Nago.

The official campaign period for the upcoming election is set to begin Aug. 25.

Tamaki, seeking a second four-year term as Okinawa governor, will continue to receive support from the All Okinawa group, which is working to block the Futenma base relocation to Henoko.

“I will urge the [central] government to give up constructing a new base at Henoko,” Tamaki told a press conference Wednesday.

The weakening influence of the All Okinawa group and a recent surge in new COVID-19 cases in the prefecture are sources of concern for the Tamaki camp.

Sakima will receive the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, the coalition partner of the LDP.

In the previous Okinawa gubernatorial election in 2018, Sakima, who did not clarify his position on the Futenma base issue, lost to Tamaki with a wide margin of about 80,000 votes.

When he announced a decision Monday to run in the Sept. 11 election, Sakima made clear that he tolerates the Futenma relocation to Henoko, noting that plenty of soil has already been placed at the planned reclamation site off Henoko, unlike four years ago, when the work to set soil in the site had not begun yet.

Pointing to the current situation, an official of the LDP’s Okinawa prefectural chapter said, “We believe we can now obtain support from voters” for the base relocation.

Sakima is seen aiming to seek voter support by pledging to take measures to shore up the regional economy, which has been heavily damaged by the fallout of the novel coronavirus crisis.

Meanwhile, Shimoji has vowed to support utilizing the areas that have already been reclaimed but oppose further reclamation of areas off Henoko.

He also plans to propose relocating U.S. troops’ training at the Futenma Air Station to the island of Mageshima in Nishinoomote, Kagoshima Prefecture, where a plan to construct a base for the Self-Defense Forces is underway, in order to remove the danger posed by the Futenma base at an early time.

Given that Shimoji, who previously belonged to the LDP and Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Innovation Party), is supported by some conservatives, an Okinawa prefectural assembly member from the LDP voiced concern over the possibility of part of conservative votes going to Shimoji, rather than to Sakima, in the upcoming election.

The Tamaki side is also on alert, with a prefectural assembly member from the camp saying that some voters who support Shimoji’s position of not allowing further reclamation may vote for him.