Photo/IllutrationVoters gather to hear a candidate for the gubernatorial election speak in Naha, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sept. 23. (Kengo Hiyoshi)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--In a close contest, Denny Tamaki, who is opposing the relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture, is leading rival Atsushi Sakima, backed by the Abe administration, a week ahead of the Sept. 30 governor election.

However, 30 percent of voters remain undecided, a survey by The Asahi Shimbun, The Okinawa Times and Ryukyu Asahi Broadcasting Corp., as well as Asahi’s news-gathering activities, also found.

The telephone survey was conducted Sept. 22-23.

The gubernatorial election, originally scheduled for late autumn, was moved up after Governor Takeshi Onaga died of cancer in early August.

The central campaign issue is the construction of a new base in the Henoko point of Nago to take over the functions of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, both in the prefecture.

Onaga led the opposition to the Futenma base's relocation within the prefecture, citing that the southernmost prefecture is home to about 70 percent of U.S. bases in Japan.

Tamaki, a former member of the Lower House from the opposition Liberal Party, entered the race after Onaga named him as one of two possible successors in a recording made before his death.

Tamaki, 58, is endorsed by the “All Okinawa” movement, a broad coalition of the Japanese Communist Party (JCP), the Social Democratic Party (SDP), labor unions and businesses that served as Onaga's power base, when Onaga won the governor race in 2014.

Sakima, 54, a former mayor of Ginowan, has the backing of the Abe administration, which has been pushing for the new base project at Henoko.

Of the voters who have already decided whom they will vote for, 20 percent of the supporters of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), as well as most of those backing the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the JCP and the SDP support Tamaki.

Sakima is backed by nearly 80 percent of LDP supporters and most of Komeito, a junior partner in the ruling coalition.

Tamaki leads Sakima among unaffiliated voters.

While male voters are equally divided over their support to both candidates, more women tend to endorse Tamaki.

In addition, people in their 50s or older tend to back Tamaki.

The opinion poll found that half of islanders oppose the Futenma base's relocation to Henoko, while 25 percent are in favor.

Of those opposing the relocation, most picked Tamaki. Likewise, most of the respondents approving of the relocation endorse Sakima.

Asked to choose the most important issue in voting out of four responses, 42 percent picked the U.S. base issue, followed by revitalizing the local economy, at 35 percent, the candidate's personality and background, at 11 percent, and support from political parties and organizations, at 6 percent.

The survey showed that people who cited the U.S. base issue as the most important tend to endorse Tamaki, while people more concerned about the local economy are leaning toward Sakima.

The poll also showed that a majority of Okinawans are paying close attention to the gubernatorial contest.

Fifty-eight percent said they are taking a great interest, while 35 percent cited somewhat of an interest. Seven percent said they are not interested.

For the poll, land-line phone numbers were chosen at random by computer.

Of the telephone numbers selected, the number of households with at least one eligible voter was 2,118. There were 915 valid responses, or 43 percent of those households contacted.