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Abe gov't shifts sights to Okinawa governor race after Nago mayoral poll

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is seen during a House of Representatives budget committee session on Feb. 5, 2018. (Mainichi)

For Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his administration, Taketoyo Toguchi's victory in the Feb. 4 mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, is a key step toward blocking the re-election later this year of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of a U.S. base relocation to the city.

"I had thought it would be difficult to defeat the sitting mayor so I'm really glad that (Toguchi) won," Abe told reporters at his office on Feb. 5. "While gaining the understanding of local residents, I want us to proceed in accordance with the Supreme Court ruling," he added, referring to the top court's Dec. 20, 2016 decision that Onaga's revocation of landfill work approval for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the prefectural city of Ginowan to Nago was unlawful.

"We will do our utmost to support the continued development of Okinawa, while listening closely to the opinions of prefectural residents," Abe said.

Toguchi, 56, defeated incumbent mayor Susumu Inamine, 72, with the support of both the local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito.

With its preferred candidate grabbing the Nago mayoralty, the Abe administration now has its sights set on backing a candidate capable of ousting Onaga in the Okinawa gubernatorial election to be held sometime around November, while also proceeding with the relocation of the Futenma base to Nago's Henoko district.

Commenting on the Feb. 4 election result, LDP election strategy committee chief Ryu Shionoya told reporters, "The Nago mayoral race has a huge influence on the gubernatorial election," adding, "Following this result, I will set about backing a candidate to the best of my ability." Komeito election strategy panel head Tetsuo Saito said, "No doubt this will be a major boost (for the gubernatorial election)."

However, the advent of a ruling coalition-backed mayor in Nago will not change the situation in the city overnight. As a source close to the government pointed out on Feb. 5, "(Base) construction will not go ahead straight away just because a new mayor has been elected. The work will proceed quietly, without much fuss."

Tetsuro Fukuyama, secretary-general of the opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, which backed Inamine, said, "The result is a terrible shame but many city and prefectural residents have expressed their opposition to the government and ruling coalition's base relocation policy, and it is clear that the people have not been won over."

Furthermore, Japanese Communist Party leader Kazuo Shii noted that "the LDP-Komeito-backed candidate did not mention the base issue once during the entire election campaign."

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