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Suddenness of Okinawa governor's race has LDP, Komeito on back foot

TOKYO -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito are hard-pressed to adjust their campaign strategies for the upcoming Okinawa gubernatorial election, after the poll was moved up to September following the death of Gov. Takeshi Onaga.

For the LDP, the gubernatorial race will almost coincide with the party presidential election, making it difficult to concentrate on the governor's poll alone. Komeito is also finding it hard to make enough time to coordinate campaign strategy with its prefectural chapter, which has advocated the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan in southern Okinawa to outside Japan's southernmost prefecture -- a position different from the ruling coalition in the National Diet.

LDP campaign strategist Ryu Shionoya and Komeito counterpart Tetsuo Saito were to visit Okinawa Prefecture on Aug. 17. The LDP has already decided to back Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 54, in the gubernatorial race, and Komeito is also expected to give its endorsement.

Both Shionoya and Saito are expected to exchange opinions with senior officials of their respective parties' prefectural chapters about the political situation in Okinawa. They are also likely to sound out local opinions about the central government's planned landfill work for the construction of a new U.S. Marine facility off the coast of Henoko in the city of Nago in central Okinawa to replace the Futenma base. After Onaga's death on Aug. 8, the central government decided to postpone depositing sand and earth for the reclamation work.

While the governor's race will officially kick off on Sept. 13 for a Sept. 30 election day, arrangements are being made for the LDP presidential race to formally start on Sept. 7 for a Sept. 20 vote. This means that the Okinawa election, in which the ruling and opposition camps will clash head-on, will be held shortly after the next LDP president assumes office. If the LDP faces an uphill battle or loses in the gubernatorial poll, the binding force of the party leader will be called into question, raising fears for the party's success in next year's House of Councillors election.

As the LDP will need to focus on its preparations for the party leadership race, it will inevitably become difficult for the party to inject all its resources into the Okinawa race. If the gubernatorial poll turns out to be a battle to avenge the death of Onaga, who was opposed to relocation of the Futenma base to the Henoko area, the ruling party may perform poorly in the upcoming election. Because of this possibility, there is a growing sense of crisis in the LDP.

Komeito is also feeling some urgency. In the Nago mayoral election in February this year, the party endorsed the eventually victorious Taketoyo Toguchi, who won the local Komeito chapter's support by avoiding clarifying his stance on the Henoko relocation. In the previous 2014 Okinawa gubernatorial race, then incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima publicly approved the base relocation within the prefecture, prompting Komeito to allow its members to decide whom to vote for on their own. Onaga won in a landslide.

While Komeito's Tokyo headquarters is pushing for the base relocation to Henoko, the party's prefectural chapter is calling for a base transfer outside Okinawa. As the gubernatorial election was moved up by about two months due to Onaga's death, the party urgently needs to patch up the differences between its central and local offices.

Komeito Secretary-General Yoshihisa Inoue, campaign strategist Saito and other officials discussed the party's response to the gubernatorial race and the Nago Municipal Assembly election slated for Sept. 9, at party headquarters on Aug. 16.

(Japanese original by Noriaki Kinoshita and Nozomu Takeuchi, Political News Department)

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