Toshihiro Nikai, newly appointed secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, has started his efforts to try to recover support for the party in Okinawa Prefecture, following a series of blows in local constituencies in national elections.
The LDP failed to win a seat in the Okinawa constituency in last month’s House of Councillors election, which means the party has no lawmakers elected from the prefecture’s constituencies in either chamber of the Diet.
There is unlikely to be a resolution any time soon in the standoff between the Prime Minister’s Office and Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga over the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan in the prefecture. However, Nikai aims to work on Okinawa issues from the LDP’s side by taking advantage of his own personal connections.
At an Aug. 10 meeting with Onaga at the LDP headquarters, Nikai emphasized that his party will offer help with Okinawa’s request for government spending on promotion and development in the prefecture.
“We would like to respond to the requests of people in Okinawa,” he said. “The LDP is responsible for peace issues, and we will work hard on them.”
At a press conference on Aug. 4, however, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the issues involving U.S. military bases in Okinawa are “linked” to the government measures for the development of the local communities, indicating that the spending scale would be affected if there is not any progress on the issues.
Nikai used to have close ties with Sukehiro Onaga, Takeshi Onaga’s older brother, who once served as vice governor of the Okinawa prefectural government. At the meeting, the two talked about Sukehiro and about the governor’s younger days as an LDP member in the Okinawa prefectural assembly and the Naha municipal assembly.
Nikai takes seriously the fact that the LDP has faced an uphill battle over seats in Okinawa Prefecture’s constituencies in recent national elections. In the 2014 House of Representatives election, LDP-endorsed candidates suffered defeat in all four constituencies in the prefecture. Moreover, Aiko Shimajiri, who was serving as state minister for Okinawa affairs, lost her seat in the July upper house election.
The relationship between the central and Okinawa prefectural governments has been strained over the deadlock in the Futenma issue, but Nikai, with an eye on future elections, aims to work on Okinawa issues with his own approach, such as coming up with conciliatory measures.
Nikai launched his drive as soon as he assumed the post of secretary general.
In the Cabinet reshuffle on Aug. 3, Nikai successfully had Yosuke Tsuruho appointed as state minister for Okinawa affairs. Tsuruho is one of Nikai’s close aides and is elected from Wakayama Prefecture, the same as Nikai.
The move is aimed to “try to break an impasse by using the spending for Okinawa as leverage,” a senior LDP official said, because the LDP is expected to continue to face an uphill battle in future elections.
Nikai also focuses on strengthening ties with the LDP’s coalition partner Komeito in Okinawa Prefecture. Komeito is nervous about the U.S. military bases issue because Soka Gakkai, a lay Buddhist organization and main support body for the party, holds a deep-rooted cautious stance over the relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture.
While providing a helping hand to Komeito’s drives on the Okinawa issues, Nikai aims to rebuild a cooperation framework in the prefecture for elections between the two parties.
However, some believe that it would not be easy for the LDP to recover support in the prefecture. “The LDP has no choice but to wait for the outcome little by little while showing its stance focusing on Okinawa Prefecture,” a party official said.Speech