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In an election that provided a boost to supporters of a long-controversial US base and a blow to Okinawa’s governor, voters in Nago, Okinawa prefecture, returned the ruling coalition-backed mayor on Sunday night.

Taketoyo Toguchi, 60, secured a second term over challenger Yohei Kishimoto, 49, winning the closely watched mayoral race by just over 5,000 votes out of 34,134 cast. Voter turnout was 68.32%.

Toguchi was backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito and promised to emphasize local economic and social welfare issues, including the provision of financial support for child-rearing, as well as his governing record. He refused to publicly take sides on the relocation of the US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a congested area in central Okinawa to the coastal district of Henoko in Nago, next to Camp Schwab, and took the same stance. which he adopted in his first campaign.

“There’s not much we can do about the base other than closely monitor developments between the central government and the Okinawa prefectural government,” Toguchi told reporters after his victory.

LDP General Secretary Toshimitsu Motegi said Toguchi’s victory was great.

“It is also a plus for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s high approval ratings. With the election of the Upper House this summer and the election of Okinawa’s governor in the fall, this important Nago victory is a good start to what will be an election year,” he told reporters on Sunday night.

Kishimoto was backed by Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party, and several smaller opposition parties against the grassroots in an “all Okinawa” campaign firmly against the Henoko facility. His failure, coupled with the defeat of an all-Okinawa incumbent to an LDP-backed candidate in the Nanjo mayoral election on the same day, spells trouble for Tamaki.

Despite the loss, Tamaki remained defiant.

“I am not at all worried about the loss of Kishimoto. There were people who supported Toguchi who also opposed the Henoko project,” the governor told reporters at Kishimoto’s campaign headquarters on Sunday night. “I have not moved an inch from my position of opposing the Henoko facility.”

The Henoko project has remained a source of controversy in Nago and Okinawa since a non-binding referendum in the city in December 1997 rejected it by 52.9 percent to 45.3 percent, only for the mayor to accept a relocation plan a few days later.

In the 1998 Nago mayoral election, voters chose Kishimoto’s father, who agreed to conditional relocation. In 2009, then-Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama promised to move the base out of Okinawa, before finally accepting the Henoko location the following year. But in the 2010 and 2014 Nago mayoral elections, the winning candidate opposed the installation, and progress stalled.

Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who opposed the project, died in August 2018. But his successor, Tamaki, won the election in September 2018 with the support of an all-Okinawa coalition opposed to the Henoko project.

Despite Tamaki’s victory, the central government began the landfill work at Henoko Bay required for the facility in December 2018. However, last November, Tamaki refused to approve a request for a design change. from the Okinawa office of the Ministry of Defense. By the end of 2021, less than 9 percent of the soil had been dumped for landfill work.

With Toguchi re-elected, the ruling coalition now turns its attention to finding a candidate to run against Tamaki in the governor’s election, which is due to take place at the end of September. That poll is likely to determine the future of Tamaki’s supporters and whether local opposition to the Henoko project, now 25 years old, continues.

Category: Japan

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