Clock ticking to Nov. 16th gubernatorial election

By Bill Charles

Will Okinawans endorse continued economic development while approving relocation of the contentious Futenma Marine Corps Air Station from downtown Ginowan City when they go to the polls on November 16th, or will they cast their ballots to stop it in favor of continuing the challenge of removing U.S. military installations from the island?

Incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima

hat is the key issue in the coming gubernatorial election a week from Sunday, with four candidates –including the incumbent governor Hirokazu Nakaima seeking an unprecedented third term to continue moving Futenma while expanding economic growth— vying for the prefectural leadership post.  His principal opponent is former Naha City Mayor Takeshi Onaga, who opposes building the new U.S. military airfield in northern Okinawa and promises to stop Tokyo’s plan.

Compounding the matter for voters are two additional candidates who have somewhat differing views on what Okinawa’s future military landscape should be.  Former lawmaker and minister who ran the program to privatize postal services in Japan, Mikio Shimoji, wants to be governor on a platform promising a referendum by Okinawa’s citizens to decide what to do about Futenma.  The fourth, a former House of Councilors member and professional musician, Shokichi Kina, is promising to revoke all elements of the Futenma relocation project and set Okinawa on a path of peace.

Challenger Takeshi Onaga

Interestingly, all four candidates have roots in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, but two have shifted allegiances through the years and the fourth is opposing the party’s guidelines.  Governor Hirokazu Nakaima has the support and formal endorsement of the Liberal Democratic Party Headquarters in Tokyo, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.  He’s said to have 60% of the LDP backing him, while Onaga has another 20%.  For the two LDP mainstays, Onaga and Nakaima, the run-up to the election now promises to be a head-butting ten days.

Both have flip flopped on positions on the controversial Futenma relocation issue, with Governor Nakaima initially in favor, then reversing course to insist he wants the base moved off Okinawa, then changing positions again to support the move, calling it the only realistic option to remove danger from Ginowan.  Mayor Onaga was initially an advocate of moving Futenma from central Okinawa to the sparsely populated northern part of the island at Henoko, where it would be part of the Marines’ Camp Schwab, with two V-shape runways extending into Oura Bay.  Now, he’s “resolutely opposed” to the base being moved as planned.

Shimoji thinks a prefecture-wide referendum is the only way to know what Okinawans really want.  “The political circumstances are confusing now,” he says, noting the LDP’s quagmire of having two of its members running for governor, with different interpretations of what the ruling party thinks best for Okinawa.  The 53-year-old Shimoji, the youngest of the four candidates, is also pitching a dream about building a railroad on the island within a decade, while bringing international tourism opportunities such as Universal Studios and a sports theme park to Okinawa.  Kina, 66, wants to terminate the landfill approval issued by the governor, withdrawing all support, while  promising “I will make blooming flowers of peace. Let’s restore the Okinawan soul through the Okinawan traditional arts like Karate and Ryukyu dance, and show the existence of Okinawa to the world.”  He says he will “create a new life style.”

The 75-year-old governor, with a background as a deputy governor in the Masahide Ota administration and a solid business background –President of Okinawa Electric Power Company and chief of the Okinawa Prefecture Chamber of Commerce and Industry—is now in his second term, and has promised, “I will solve the Futenma relocation issue.  This is the immediate priority.”  He is emphasizing on the campaign trail that he has Prime Minister Abe’s promise that Futenma will be closed by 2019, which will be good for Ginowan City.  Nakaima, who’s drawn hefty economic promises from the Prime Minister to build the second runway at Naha International Airport, create a light rail system, and expand Prefecture infrastructure projects worth billions of yen each year for the next eight years.

He’s also been getting political points chalked up thanks to the central government and the United States making changes in Futenma operations.  More than a dozen KC-130 refueling tankers based at Futenma have now been moved to Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station on the mainland.  Japan says more of the training exercises and drills by the disliked MV-22 Ospreys based at Futenma would take place on the mainland instead of Okinawa.

Onaga says that is not good enough.  He continuously criticizes the governor for approving Henoko in the first place.  Says Onaga, “He’s the first person in the 70 years of the postwar era who has offered to provide a base (on Okinawa).” Onaga promises to “use every means possible to stop the construction.”  Shimoji and Kina are not seen by political observers to have any chance of being elected, but they could siphon off votes from the two strong candidates.

The LDP itself backs Nakaima, while some local LDP politicians are throwing their support to Onaga.  The Japanese Communist Party, the Social Democratic Party and various local parties are leaning toward Onaga.  The Komeito, junior partner with the LDP, has refused to take a stance on the election, telling its members to make their own decisions.

For residents of Ginowan, it’s a bittersweet choice.  They want Futenma MCAS out of their city, but don’t want to appear to be pro-bases either.  For some, the money derived from their land being leased to the government is a factor in supporting the government.  Yet others, fearful of an accident such as happened in 2004 when a Marine Corps helicopter crashed onto Okinawa International University in Ginowan, see positive points in the governor’s approval of Henoko on the northeast coast, where there’s far less opportunity for loss of life or damage should a crash occur.

A telephonic poll of potential voters in the November 16th election shows Takeshi Onaga with a slight lead, and Governor Hirokazu Nakaima in second place.  The November 1st and 2nd public opinion poll was jointly conducted by local newspaper the Ryukyu Shinpo and Okinawa Television Broadcasting Company.  The phone poll reflected 20% of the respondents to the questionnaire saying they’ve not made up their minds yet.  Mikio Shimoji and Shokichi Kina, the other two candidates for governor, ranked well below Nakaima and Onaga.

03:21 15 Jun , 2024