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Editorial: Gov't-endorsed mayor's win in Okinawa no green light for base construction

In a mayoral election in the northern Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago, incumbent Taketoyo Toguchi, endorsed by the national government, the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and Komeito, was reelected.

    The national government is pushing forward with its plan to build a U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago to replace the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the Okinawa Prefecture city of Ginowan.

    Yohei Kishimoto, the candidate endorsed by the "All Okinawa" bloc, including Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who has opposed the construction of the base in Henoko, lost.

    In response to the election results, Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that the government would "continue steadily with the base relocation construction work in Henoko."

    But Toguchi, like the first time he was elected mayor, has not made clear whether he is for or against the relocation of the Futenma base, saying he would "closely watch the trial between the prefectural and national governments." After he was reelected, he recognized that "there are many Nago residents who are against the base."

    It is not possible to point to the election results as evidence that local residents have approved the base relocation plans. Plowing through with construction is unacceptable.

    It was the seventh Nago mayoral election since the Japanese government's base relocation plan surfaced. Candidates who agreed with the plan won in the first three elections, and the opposite occurred in the next two.

    Toguchi emphasized his success in making day care services and children's health care free -- the funds for which came from a portion of the approximately 1.5 billion yen (around $13 million) in U.S. forces realignment grants that the city received from the national government. The government did not provide such grants to the city when the then mayor was opposed to the Futenma relocation plan.

    Voter turnout for the latest election was the lowest on record. Just before the start of the campaign period was announced, a quasi-state of emergency was declared in the prefecture due to the spread of the coronavirus, limiting what both camps could do.

    At the same time, some point out that low voter turnout may have partly been the result of a spreading sense of helplessness among residents, as the government created a fait accompli by starting to reclaim land off the coast of Henoko.

    The Japanese government has ultimately forced the residents of Nago to make an unreasonable choice in the election between opposing a military base and enjoying improvements in everyday life through grants.

    There will be an Okinawa gubernatorial election in the fall. The administration of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is shaking down Gov. Tamaki by threatening to reduce the Okinawa Prefecture development budget, and is trying to give rise to a pro-base relocation governor.

    But soft soil on the seafloor was found in an area planned for reclamation, and the situation changed drastically. To make improvements, the time span needed for construction has been significantly extended, and it will not be possible for the Futenma air base to be returned to Japan until the 2030s at the earliest. The prospects of "eliminating the dangers of the Futenma air base at the earliest date possible," which the Japanese government has claimed as its basis for forcing through construction, are unclear.

    In May, it will have been 50 years since Okinawa was returned to Japan from U.S. military rule. The Japanese government, however, has continued to foist excessive burdens of military bases on Okinawa, and divide prefectural residents. The Kishida administration must confront its responsibility for that.

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