Editorial:Sakima’s reelection demands Futenma closure by 2019 deadline, not an acceptance of new base

January 25, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

In yesterday’s election for mayor of Ginowan City, voters reelected the incumbent, pleased with his performance over the past four years and hoping he will continue to serve them well.

Throughout his campaign, the incumbent, Atsushi Sakima, avoided taking a stand on the Henoko base relocation issue. Thus, his reelection does not show that the voters accept the Henoko relocation plan, and is not a sign that the will of the Okinawan people has shifted in favor of the plan.

It is important to realize that the people of Ginowan are forcing the government to confront Sakima’s election pledge that U.S. Marine Corps Air Station (MCAS) Futenma be closed within five years of early 2014, when the pledge was made. The Abe administration supported Sakima in the election, and thus bears the responsibility of ensuring that operations at Futenma are halted by the deadline of February 2019.

The facts must not be distorted

Before the election, Prime Minister Abe flagrantly derided the importance of local opinion when he stated that matters of national security must be decided by the central government and would not be affected by a single local election. But now that opponent Keiichiro Shimura, who was backed by Okinawa governor Onaga’s ruling coalition, has been defeated, the Abe government will likely claim this shows that the people of Ginowan have expressed their support for the Henoko relocation. The government should avoid this unacceptable twisting of the facts.

At the end of December, the Ryukyu Shimpo participated in conducting a public opinion poll asking Ginowan residents for their views on the Henoko relocation. The results showed that 71.1 percent thought that MCAS Futenma should either be relocated outside of Okinawa, outside of Japan, or simply closed with no condition of a replacement.

Another poll conducted earlier this month showed that number at 74.4 percent. As for the Henoko relocation plan being pushed forward by the Japanese government, support remained low at 11.1 percent in the December poll and 12.9 percent in January. These numbers make it clear that the people of Ginowan do not wish for the construction of a new base in Henoko as a trade-off for closing Futenma.

Sakima won the election by pledging to prevent Futenma to remain in its current location permanently. The election results show the people’s rage at the Japanese government for remaining inert for a full twenty years since the 1996 agreement to close Futenma, while the base continues to endanger residents’ lives and wellbeing.

Mayor Sakima has the responsibility to realize the termination of operations at Futenma within five years from the time he made that promise. Nonetheless, there is a chance that this deadline will not be met.

Defense minister Gen Nakatani originally defined “termination of operations” as a complete cessation of all aircraft flights at the base. Meanwhile, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga expressed his view that termination of operations would entail the cessation of (1) aerial refueling capabilities, (2) takeoffs and landings during times of emergency, and (3) Osprey aircraft operations. After hearing that, the defense minister took back his original statement, saying the government should not make statements that would delude the people.

When people demand the termination of Futenma operations, they seek the cessation of aircraft flights over their city. Sakima avowed that he would seek the closure and return of Futenma’s land to be realized as soon as possible.

Since the Abe government backed Sakima in the election, it must agree with his policies. In that case, it is only natural for the government to put its utmost efforts into realizing the closure of Futenma. Anything less would be a betrayal of the people’s trust.

Overcoming divisiveness

Over time, Okinawa has dealt with conflict over the base issue to the point of exhaustion. It seems Okinawa alone is forced to see its people turned against each other in such a way.

Political scientist Robert Putnam’s research on social capital has proven that if people lack a sense of unity, political policies will remain ineffective. The Japanese government has caused incalculable damage by scheming to create rifts within Okinawan society. We have had enough of such divisive schemes.

We hope that Mayor Sakima will endeavor to overcome such divisions. Open-minded magnanimity on Sakima’s part will help restore a sense of unity among Okinawans.

Recently, childhood poverty has gained visibility as a social problem in Okinawa. Ginowan is no exception. Ensuring the welfare and education of all children is a pressing issue. Children should not be forced to inherit the economic disparities present in their parents’ generation. We hope Mayor Sakima will come up with effective policies for tackling this situation.

In the Ginowan election, the policies of both candidates were strikingly similar. Both Sakima and Shimura advocated for free school lunches and free healthcare for children. These policies aim to improve children’s living environments, and they represent the candidates’ most important campaign pledges. We hope to see Mayor Sakima follow through on these promises in a timely manner.

Recently, people tend to assume that election pledges are simply meant to be broken. We hope Mayor Sakima will challenge this depressing assumption and renew our faith in politics. That is our greatest hope for one of the first critical elections in the first year since the voting age was lowered to 18.

(Enlish Translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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