Photo/IllutrationTaketoyo Toguchi receives a bouquet from his daughter, Shiori, on Feb. 4 after winning the Nago mayoral election. (Masaru Komiyaji)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAGO, Okinawa Prefecture--A candidate backed by the ruling coalition won the Feb. 4 mayoral election here, as voters choose local economic revitalization measures over anti-U.S. military base sentiment.

Taketoyo Toguchi, 56, a former Nago assembly member, defeated Susumu Inamine, 72, who was seeking his third term as Nago mayor.

Toguchi’s victory is expected to bolster Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s contentious plan to build a military airfield in the Henoko district of Nago that will take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan in the prefecture.

During the campaign, however, Toguchi did not come out directly in favor of constructing the replacement base in Nago, saying he would abide by court decisions on various lawsuits filed by the Okinawa prefectural government and the central government over the issue.

And after the election, he stopped short of saying his victory was a mandate to move forward with the Futenma move.

“Local public opinion is very complicated,” Toguchi said on Feb. 5. “I will deal with the issue in response to the circumstances that I face.”

Still, Abe was clearly pleased with the election results in a city where his administration has faced constant protests over the construction of the base.

“Incumbent mayors are said to be at their strongest when running for a third term,” Abe told reporters in Tokyo on Feb. 5. “We felt it would be difficult to defeat him, but we are very pleased to have won.”

The prime minister added that the central government would provide the necessary support to implement Toguchi’s pledges made during the campaign.

Inamine, an independent backed by major opposition parties, ran on a campaign opposing the relocation of the Futenma base to Nago.

Toguchi, also an independent who was supported by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), emphasized measures to revitalize the local economy.

His campaign resonated with residents who are seeking an end to the economic doldrums in the city.

“I believe voters were sending a message of ‘Change Nago’ and develop it into a brighter community,” Toguchi told reporters after his victory.

A 44-year-old company employee said he had voted for Inamine in the previous two mayoral elections, but he switched to the incumbent’s rival this time around.

“While it would be preferable if there was no base, I think Inamine spent too much time on the base issue,” he said. “I want the mayor to put his fullest efforts into activating the economy.”

An unemployed 60-year-old man said he opposes the Henoko move but voted for Toguchi anyway.

“The central part of the city has no energy,” he said. “I wanted the stagnant atmosphere to change.”

A 62-year-old woman who works in the restaurant industry said her livelihood depends on business from U.S. military personnel. She said the municipal government should make every effort to bring in money from the central government.

Toguchi obtained 20,389 votes, compared with 16,931 for Inamine.

Voter turnout was 76.92 percent, up slightly from 76.71 percent in the previous election.

Inamine had long opposed the Futenma relocation, saying the prefecture is shouldering an unfair burden in hosting U.S. military facilities in Japan.

His defeat could affect the strategy of Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, another staunch critic of the Henoko move, as well as the gubernatorial election to be held later this year.

LDP officials have already said they would seek a candidate to oppose Onaga when he seeks a second term in autumn.