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Okinawa Gov., outgoing Nago mayor lament Henoko issue evaded by opponent's campaign

Susumu Inamine, right, maintains a stern expression beside Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, left, upon learning of his mayoral election loss to newcomer Taketoyo Toguchi in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Feb. 4, 2018. (Mainichi)

NAGO, Okinawa -- While the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to this city's Henoko district has been a hotly debated issue for almost 20 years, local residents placed priority on economic revival as they chose a supporter of the relocation as their new mayor on Feb. 4.

Taketoyo Toguchi, a 56-year-old newcomer and former city assembly lawmaker backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, beat out current mayor Susumu Inamine, 72, who had spent his two four-year terms resisting the base relocation as he crumbled in the face of the united front of the central government and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) set up against him.

"It's a shame that the base relocation issue did not become an important point in this election," said Inamine upon learning of his defeat at roughly 10:30 p.m. on Feb. 4. "I strongly emphasized that peace, safety and security are the basis for the economy, education and social welfare, but the base issue was evaded." Facing a silent venue as he held a microphone for the press, Inamine occasionally paused while his voice shook. The sound of muffled sobs could be heard from the audience.

The next person to take the stage was Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who had campaigned fiercely for Inamine. With a solemn expression, Onaga said, "The advancement of the city of Nago will not take place under the flight paths of Ospreys. Because this point was dodged (by the opponent's campaign team) and did not become a key point of contention in the election, we were unable to win understanding (from the voters)." His voice grew quiet, and he briskly exited the venue.

Outgoing Mayor Inamine and Gov. Onaga have been the top leaders of the "All Okinawa" movement, which brought both conservatives and progressives together to oppose the base relocation to Henoko being pushed by the central government.

The government began surveying the coastline of the Henoko district of Nago in August 2014. In April 2017, land reclamation construction work along the coast began, and this mayoral race came on the heels of a sense of doubt settling in among residents that there was nothing left they could do to halt construction of the new base.

While Inamine claimed, "We cannot leave behind a legacy of failure for the next generation," in the end, his feelings failed to resonate with the majority of Nago residents.

Meanwhile, during an early morning press conference on Feb. 5 in Nago, Mayor-elect Toguchi stated, "I don't believe that this election showed a public consensus of acceptance of the base relocation among residents. Among my supporters are also those who oppose the move, and the will of the residents is a complicated issue. I would like to maintain a certain distance from the central government."

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