MOSCOW, November 16 (Sputnik) — Okinawa residents have elected Takeshi Onaga, who believes the controversial US military base should be moved out of the island prefecture, as the new governor, Kyodo news agency reports, citing its projections.
Onaga’s victory puts an end to the government-backed plans to relocate the base to a different location in Okinawa, hosting more than half of the 47,000 US service personnel stationed in Japan. “We proved that the people of Okinawa disagree (with Nakaima),” Onaga told reporters, saying his victory will be “a new page in history,” as quoted by Kyodo. “I am determined to work toward canceling and withdrawing it (the relocation plan),” he assured his supporters.
The incumbent Hirokazu Nakaima, 75, caused public outrage last December when he backed the government’s initiative to relocate the US Marines’ Futenma Air Station from a residential district to a less populated area approximately 50 kilometers (30 miles) to the north. Nakaima, publicly supported by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, shifted ground after Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe promised to provide financial assistance to the local economy. Nakaima defended his decision by claiming that it was the only option available.
However, the majority of residents, who have taken part in the election, seem to be unconvinced. “Four years ago I voted for Nakaima but he broke his promises,” Katsuji Miyagi, 64, told AFP. “I’ve had enough of these bases. I want no more bases in Okinawa,” he said.
Abe stated that Japan will go ahead with the plan to relocate the base within the prefecture. Seen as a thorn in the US-Japan ties, he views the initiative, first unveiled in 1996, as an attempt to improve relations with Washington, Reuters pointed out. However, it was met with fierce opposition by the local population. Okinawa residents say the base has exacerbated the criminal situation and is a source of noise pollution. Moreover, memories of a 2004 incident, when a US military helicopter crashed near the local university, are still fresh.
Nakaima loss is a serious setback for Abe, who is reportedly planning to announce snap elections next week.