In an election on Feb. 4, a candidate backed by the Abe administration defeated the incumbent mayor of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, who campaigned on his strong opposition to the plan to relocate a U.S. military base in the city.

The election result will deliver a heavy blow to Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, who has been trying to block the building of a facility in the Henoko district of Nago to replace U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the crowded city of Ginowan, also in the prefecture.

Onaga has based his agenda to stop the Futenma relocation plan on the will of the people as indicated by the outcomes of many recent elections in the prefecture.

If the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claims the people in Nago have accepted the controversial plan, however, it would be accused of interpreting the poll results in an excessively simplistic way.

When asked if his win means the people’s acceptance of the relocation plan, Mayor-elect Taketoyo Toguchi said he didn’t think so.

“I’m aware that citizens have complicated views and feelings (about the issue),” he added. “I need to maintain a certain distance from the central government (over the issue).”

The prefectural chapter of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, mobilized its powerful vote-gathering machine to help Toguchi win. But it is opposed to the proposal to move the functions of the Futenma air base to Henoko.

The party’s policy agreement with Toguchi calls for the transfer of the U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa outside the prefecture and the nation. If so, there should be no need to build the new base in Henoko for use by the Marines.

Both Toguchi and Komeito will be subject to rigorous public scrutiny of their policy actions to assess their efforts to achieve the goal.

During the election campaign, Toguchi said nothing about the Futenma relocation issue except for his promise to keep watch on the course of the ongoing court battle over the issue between the central and prefectural government.

Instead, he focused his campaign strategy on measures to enhance the local economy. The Abe administration provided strong support for his campaign by suggesting to resume subsidies for the city, which have been stopped during the incumbent's tenure.

A survey conducted by The Asahi Shimbun and a local broadcaster immediately after the official campaign period began found voters in the city wavering and undecided.

In the survey, 63 percent of the respondents voiced opposition to the Futenma relocation plan, while only 20 percent expressed support.

When asked which was the most important consideration in picking a candidate, however, the respondents were almost equally divided between two options: the base relocation issue, at 41 percent, and measures to promote regional development, at 39 percent.

The survey findings indicated that voters in Nago placed equal importance on the base issue and the challenges facing the local economy, rather than putting a higher priority on pocketbook issues.

In a Diet session during the campaign period, Abe made a troubling remark concerning the burden of the heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa.

Speaking about policy efforts to reduce the burden in a Lower House Budget Committee session, Abe said plans to move bases from Okinawa to some parts of the mainland would not win support from people in the mainland.

The comment has raised some serious questions about the administration’s policy stance. Is it willing to build a new base in Okinawa even if it fails to win support for the plan from people in the prefecture while refraining from taking such steps in the mainland? Is this a form of discrimination?

Abe has also said repeatedly that he will carry out the relocation project in line with the Supreme Court’s ruling in a related lawsuit.

But the ruling only judged that Onaga’s decision to revoke his predecessor’s approval of land reclamation to build the new base was illegal.

Abe is clearly misleading the public by making the top court decision look as if it is an endorsement of the Futenma relocation plan.

It was the sixth Nago mayoral election since the plan to build a new base in Henoko was first floated.

Usually, mayoral elections revolve around local issues. But the election in Nago caused the public to be bitterly divided over the base issue, which is about a national policy.

The administration is responsible for eliminating this burden, which is unfairly imposed on people in the city.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Feb. 6