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Late governor's support group close to picking anti-base candidate in Okinawa

In this Feb. 14, 2017 file photo, Liberal Party Secretary General Denny Tamaki answers questions during an interview in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- A committee consisting of the ruling party in the Okinawa Prefectural assembly and other groups that supported the late Gov. Takeshi Onaga decided on Aug. 19 here to proceed with putting forth Liberal Party Secretary General and National Diet House of Representatives member Denny Tamaki as a candidate for the Sept. 30 Okinawa gubernatorial election.

After meeting with the committee members, Tamaki, 58, who represents Okinawa's No. 3 electoral district, spoke to the press on Aug. 19. "Learning that Gov. Onaga mentioned my name (as a possible successor) is an honor, and one that I will consider seriously," Tamaki said, showing that he is positively considering the nomination. "I would like to issue a reply before the old "Bon" holidays (held from Aug. 23 in Okinawa) begin."

The committee was held in the Okinawa Prefectural capital of Naha on Aug. 19 to discuss who would continue the late governor's fight against the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan in the southern part of the main island to the Henoko district of the central city of Nago. The group narrowed down the candidates to Tamaki or Morimasa Goya, 69, a conservative businessman and the chairman of the Kanehide Group, a local Okinawan retail and construction giant. There is an audio recording of Onaga listing the names of Tamaki and Goya as his possible successors before his passing.

After the meeting of the committee, the members consulted both men. Goya commented, "As I am a businessman, I will support the candidate for governor from behind the scenes," refusing the nomination. On the other hand, after meeting with the committee, Tamaki told the press, "I will consult with both my support base and Liberal Party co-President Ichiro Ozawa, and hopefully decide on how to proceed."

Committee chairman and Okinawa Prefectural Assembly member Taiga Teruya showed the intention to go forward with Tamaki as their pick after meeting with the two men. "I took Mr. Goya's message to be one that he does not wish to run. I would like to wait for Mr. Tamaki's reply."

Meanwhile, 48-year-old Shigenobu Asato, former president of Junior Chamber International Japan, who had previously announced his candidacy in the gubernatorial race, announced that he withdrew his name on Aug. 19. Fellow conservative candidate Atsushi Sakima, 54, the former mayor of the city of Ginowan, announced his candidacy after being asked to run by the Okinawa branch of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This endorsement locked Sakima in as the united conservative candidate going into the election.

Asato reportedly met with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and other top party officials in Tokyo on Aug. 19. According to Asato, for the sake of Okinawa and the LDP, Nikai requested that Asato cooperate in putting out a united front in the race, asking him to step down as a gubernatorial candidate. Asato will now drum up support for Sakima.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau, and Shunsuke Yamashita, Kyushu News Department)

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