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Growing anti-U.S. base sentiment reflected in latest Okinawa election

Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga speaks to reporters at his official residence in Naha, on June 6, 2016. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- The victory by the anti-U.S. base relocation forces supporting Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga in the June 5 Okinawa Prefectural Assembly election reflected growing anti-U.S. base sentiment in the southernmost island prefecture, fueled by the recent death of a local woman in which a U.S. base worker is believed to have been involved.

"We've campaigned to send our will to the prefectural assembly that we won't let the woman's death go in vain, and the election outcome was the result of our campaign," said Kyoko Higa, an incumbent assembly member from the regional Okinawa Social Mass Party, after winning a seat in a constituency representing the prefectural capital of Naha and southern remote islands. "I hope to break the status-quo by committedly addressing the unfairness placed on Okinawa to both the Japanese and U.S. governments."

In the Ginowan mayoral election in January this year, a candidate backed by Gov. Onaga was defeated by an incumbent backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The latest prefectural assembly election was therefore crucial for Onaga, who assumed office in 2014 after winning the gubernatorial election in a landslide against the then incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima -- a supporter of the central government's plan to relocate the Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko district of the city of Nago, since the loss of "team Onaga" in the prefectural assembly could have hindered stable operation of the prefectural government. Even before the campaign period kicked off, Onaga made himself busy traveling within Okinawa to support candidates for the ruling bloc in the assembly.

As a result, the ruling camp won in a landslide as many pro-Onaga candidates secured seats in the cities of Ginowan and the city of Okinawa -- home to the U.S. Air Station Futenma and Kadena Air Base, respectively -- and other municipalities hosting military bases.

"It is a big win," commented Onaga, adding that he will "never allow a new base in Henoko" and will continue to work toward that goal.

Meanwhile, candidates backed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- the ruling party in the national government -- struggled to gather votes.

Kosuke Gushi, secretary-general of the LDP's Okinawa chapter, reflected on the election outcome after learning that his successor Ieharu Nakamura lost, saying that it was directly affected by the death of the woman in the city of Uruma.

"I think people held us (the LDP) responsible as the ruling party in the central government for not effectively reducing Okinawa's burden of hosting bases even though we have been addressing the issue of the disproportionate share of U.S. bases in the prefecture," Gushi added.

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