Voting begins in Nago poll that may affect Hatoyama decision on Futemma
Jan 23 07:10 PM US/Eastern
(AP) - NAGO, Japan, Jan. 24 (Kyodo) — Voting began Sunday morning in an election to pick the leader of the city of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, which may determine Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama's decision on the future of the U.S. Marine Corps' Futemma Air Station in Ginowan, another city in the southernmost Japanese prefecture.
The mayoral election is being closely watched as Hatoyama has said that he wants to see the result before deciding whether to relocate the Futemma facility, which currently sits in a residential area in Ginowan, to Nago in line with a 2006 Japan-U.S. deal or to transfer it outside the prefecture as he has advocated.
Incumbent Nago Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, 63, has shown his willingness to accept the existing plan if Tokyo decides to do so, while his sole rival Susumu Inamine, 64, is resolutely opposed to it.
Under the bilateral deal, the central Okinawa city of Nago with a population of about 60,000 will have to have a new heliport base built along the coast of the U.S. Marine Corps' Camp Schwab near the city's Henoko area to accommodate the Futemma facility.
"We have suffered for 13 years...with neighbors long being at loggerheads with each other," Inamine told voters Saturday. "But let's put an end to it in this (election). I will not have another base constructed in Henoko waters."
Inamine was referring to a local referendum in 1997 in which a majority voted against the relocation and the fact that the U.S. base issue has divided the city over whether it should accept the base in exchange for a considerable amount of government subsidies. The city has been plagued by fiscal problems.
During campaigning Saturday, meanwhile, Shimabukuro made virtually no mention of the relocation issue, arguing it is a matter that neither a mayor nor local people in the city should decide on.
Instead, Shimabukuro has highlighted what he has achieved during his past four-year term including the creation of 1,000 jobs by inviting companies from outside the city, as well as maintaining economic stability by taking advantage of base-related state subsidies.
Inamine is running as an independent but has support from Hatoyama's Democratic Party of Japan and its coalition partners -- the Social Democratic Party and the People's New Party -- and the Japanese Communist Party, while Shimabukuro, running also as an independent, has the backing of two opposition parties -- the Liberal Democratic Party and the New Komeito party.
Inamine, who is former chairman of the city's education board, is also supported by civic groups opposing the construction of a new U.S. base, while Shimabukuro is largely backed by construction firms that have benefited from the state subsidies and related public works projects.
Hatoyama reiterated last week that his government would conclude negotiations with the United States by the end of May on where to relocate the Futemma facility.
Since taking office last September, the 62-year-old Japanese leader has been evasive on the issue and this has been widely seen as straining Japan-U.S. relations.