June 23, 2017

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Mayor of Ginowan City, Okinawa Re-elected

On January 24, there was a mayoral election in the city of Ginowan in Okinawa prefecture (equivalent to a US state), where current mayor Atsushi Sakima (51) won reelection. The two candidates ran for the election. They were Sakima, who was supported by the coalition parties (Liberal Democratic Party and Komei Party) and Keichiro Shimura (63), who was supported by the All Okinawa alliance (オール沖縄). The All Okinawa alliance consists of the Social Democratic Party, the Japan Communist Party and the People’s Lives Party. The current governor of Okinawa, Takeshi Onaga is also member of the All Okinawa alliance.

In total, Sakima obtained 27,668 votes, compared to Shimura’s 21,811 votes. Sakima therefore won with a margin of 5,857 votes (roughly 12%).  This margin of victory was reported to be a relatively big margin by the Japanese media.

Sakima was first elected as mayor of Ginowan city in 2012. In that election, he beat his opponent by a margin of approximately 900 votes. Before that, he served as a member of the city council of Ginowan for two terms between 2001 and 2005, and as a member of the Okinawa Assembly for two terms between 2006 and 2012. Sakima lived in France for seven years working as a karate teacher.

Sakima’s opponent, Shimura, worked in the Okinawa Prefectural Office between 1975 and 2013.  He is a vice president of NPO, which is a non profit organization that assists with the design and construction of buildings.

The US Futenma airbase is currently located in the central district of the Okinawan city of Ginowan. Due to its location, it is regarded as very unsafe by both the Japanese and US governments. In a 2003 visit to Okinawa, then-US Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld even referred to it as “world’s most dangerous base.” (Sekai De Mottomo Kiken Na Kichi) 世界で最も危険な基地)(http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-pacific-11404406). This statement was not widely covered in the US media, but it has become very well known in Japan and is often used in discussions about the airbase. A newspaper even quoted it in its coverage of the most recent mayoral election. Japan and US have already agreed to return the Futenma airbase to the government of Japan and construct a new US airbase in Henoko, which is a district within the Okinawan city of Nago.

Sakima was first elected as mayor of Ginowan city in 2012. In that election, he beat his opponent by a margin of approximately 900 votes. Before that, he served as a member of the city council of Ginowan for two terms between 2001 and 2005, and as a member of the Okinawa Assembly for two terms between 2006 and 2012. Sakima lived in France for seven years working as a karate teacher and is fluent in French.

Sakima’s opponent, Shimura, worked in the Okinawa Prefectural Office between 1975 and 2013.  He is a vice president of NPO, which is a non profit organization that assists with the design and construction of buildings.

The opponents of the new Henoko base have argued that the construction of a new base in  contradicts what the majority of Okinawans want, and that Okinawans want the new base to be constructed outside of Okinawa. The opponents often pointed to the result of recent elections as evidence that Okinawans do not want a new base in Henoko. For example, they often would cite the January 2014 mayoral election in Nago, the city where Henoko is located. Susumu Inamine, an opponent of the construction of the new base, won that election by beating an LDP-backed candidate. He is currently serving a second term in Nago.

Other recent examples are: (1) the gubernatorial election in November 2014, where Takeshi Onaga, another opponent of the Henoko base, beat his coalition-backed opponent, and (2) the December 2014 Lower House election, where LDP-backed candidates lost in all four Okinawa electoral districts.

The result of these three elections were the main evidence offered for arguments made by opponents of the new base. However, the latest mayoral election in Ginowan undermined this evidence, since the coalition-backed candidate that supports the construction of Henoko base won. During the campaign for the Ginowan mayor’s race, Shimura (who eventually lost the election) explicitly made the construction of the Henoko base as the core issue of his campaign. He toured the city with Governor Onaga making speeches against the new base. On the other hand, Sakima did not explicitly referred to the Henoko base during his campaign. However, he did acknowledge that the Futenma base must not remain at its current location. Instead, Sakima prioritized local development as the core issue of his campaign.

There are two different ways to understand the result of the election. The first is to see it as a reflection of the will of the people of Ginowan, who support the construction of the Henoko base.

Among people who advance this perspective, some say that the election dealt a powerful blow to Governor Onaga, who vehemently opposes the construction of the Henoko base. Others say that the election clearly demonstrates that “All Okinawa” does not actually represent all of Okinawa.

The other way to view the election is that it does not say much about the Henoko base issue because the candidate who won did not actually campaign on the issue. Mainichi Shimbun advanced this view by pointing out that because Sakima did not explicitly talk about the Henoko base, he had buried the issue during the election. As a result, it would be wrong to conclude that the construction of the Henoko base is supported by the Ginowan public.

On January 24th, after learning of Sakimama’s victory, Prime Minister Abe made a phone call to a senior staffer in the LDP and emphasized the election’s symbolic importance. On January 29, he met with Sakiima at Kantei (the official residence of the Prime Minister) in Tokyo and congratulated him. Abe said that he was glad the election had turned out the way it did, with such a favorable result.

In the evening of January 24, after the election result was announced, Governor Onaga stated that it was unfortunate that his side wasn’t able to win this election, even though they supported a wonderful candidate. It is a general fact of elections that it is harder to beat an incumbent. Onaga stated that he will continue to work to prevent the construction of the Henoko base as steadfastly as he has always done. He believes that it is still a priority for Okinawans, especially since Sakima did not bring up the new base as a campaign issue and approximately 70% of Okinawans oppose its construction.

Whether one takes this election result as legitimate reflection of Ginowan public opinion about the construction of Henoko or not, it is fair to say that the result shocked the base’s opponents and brought relief to its supporters after having losing three elections in a row.

Source:

http://www.okinawatimes.co.jp/article.php?id=151213

http://mainichi.jp/senkyo/articles/20160125/k00/00m/010/119000c

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