Editorial: It is too soon to say if Nago City’s Mayor Toguchi accepts the new base

February 5, 2018 Ryukyu Shimpo

The issue of MCAS Futenma’s relocation to Henoko, Nago City was the major issue at hand in the Nago mayoral election. Taketoyo Toguchi, an independent new candidate endorsed by the Japanese government which is advancing construction in Henoko, beat the independent incumbent who calls for a halt to construction, Susumu Inamine.

It would be hasty to conclude that Toguchi being elected translates to Nago City residents approving of new base construction. That is because Toguchi has not declared his approval of construction, and only made known his approach will be to engage in discussions with the Japanese government in order to resolve the issue.

On February 2 at a meeting of the House of Representatives Budget Committee, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, “We are unable to gain understanding from the mainland for making it the relocation site.” This is the first time the prime minister has admitted a political reason rather than a military reason for MCAS Futenma being relocated within Okinawa. For a politician, this is an irresponsibly discriminatory statement to make toward Okinawa. Toguchi’s election must not result in an impossibility of relocating MCAS Futenma to another prefecture and the forcing of the new base upon Nago City.

The newly elected Toguchi said of the relocation to Nago, “There is ongoing contention between the country and the prefecture, so I will keep close watch [on the situation].” It is a stretch to presume he will accept the new base.

For one example, before the Nago mayoral election, the Ryukyu Shimpo conducted a telephone public opinion poll, which showed that Nago residents’ attitudes are clear. In regard to the plan to relocate MCAS Futenma to Henoko, Nago, 53.0 percent answered that they “oppose” it, and 13.0 percent said they “somewhat oppose” it, accounting for 66.0 percent against the plan. On the other hand, 10.5 percent responded that they “support” it, and 17.8 percent said they “somewhat support” it, which does not even reach 30 percent in favor of the plan.

By avoiding the topic of new base construction and highlighting economics, and gaining an endorsement from Komeito which had decided on autonomous voting for the previous election, it can be said that Toguchi’s election strategy was successful.

Toguchi said that he will “keep an eye on trials between Japan and Okinawa.” He also mentioned that, “Former Mayor Tateo Kishimoto accepted relocation to Henoko. I supported and approved of that.”

At the time when Kishimoto accepted relocation, he also presented seven conditions to curb effects on residents’ lives and the natural environment. These conditions included (1) the implementation of environmental impact assessments, (2) improvement of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) and a 15-year limit to operations of the Futenma replacement facility, and (3) the conclusion of agreements on the use of bases. He declared that if these conditions were not satisfied, he would “revoke his approval of relocation.” The conditions put forth by Kishimoto have not been satisfied. Toguchi should bear this in mind.

However, the Okinawa branch of Komeito, which is calling for relocation of Futenma to outside Okinawa or outside Japan, endorsed the same candidate endorsed by the LDP, Toguchi. Head of Komeito’s Okinawa branch Tsutomu Kinjo gave the reason for having concluded a policy agreement with Toguchi; “We came to a mutual understanding as we want revision of the SOFA, and the Marine Corps to be moved out of Okinawa or out of Japan.” But if that comes to be, the new base for use by the Marine Corps will be unnecessary, will it not?

The issues facing Nago City are not limited to the new base problem; revitalizing the economy and promoting employment are major. It is essential that we quickly move to establish a flagship hospital. There are also pressing matters such as welfare, education, and population decline. Hopefully we steadily address these issues.
Translator’s note: “Autonomous voting” in this case refers to when a political party does not choose a candidate to endorse for an election, leaving their party members unguided in terms of candidate choice.

(English translation by T&CT and Erin Jones)

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