Susumi Inamine emerged victorious in the closely watched mayoral polls in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture.
Inamine’s re-election deals a setback to long-delayed plans to move a US marines air base to the city just weeks after Okinawa’s governor approved the deal.
During his campaign, Inamine vowed to remain a staunch opponent of relocating the US Marinese Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to the less-crowded city up north.
The US and Japan agreed in 1996 to move the Futenma air station to Nago, but many Okinawans objected to the plans and said they want the base off their island completely. The current air base was planned to be relocated because of concerns about aircraft noise, accidents in civilian areas and crimes such as rape.
Washington saw a sliver of hope when Okinawa governor Hirokazu Nakaima gave the green light for land reclamation to build a new base, whose runways would extend over water in Henoko Bay from the US military’s existing Camp Schwab.
Inamine, 68, defeated former Okinawa Assemblyman Bunshin Suematsu, 65, who was for relocation plans.
“This election was easy to understand. It was about one issue, the Henoko issue, and whether you were for or against the new base,” Inamine told supporters. “The people have spoken and they have said no.”
About 84 percent of Nago residents oppose moving the base to Henoko, according to the latest opinion polls. Abe’s pro-relocation Liberal Democratic Party attempted to woo voters with promises of additional development funds for the city.
Inamine received support from traditional anti-base opponents and voters who were angered by what they saw as a backroom deal between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Nakaimo to sell out Nago in exchange for 346 billion yen in development assistance in fiscal 2014, as well as a promised 300 billion yen annually for Okinawa until 2021.
By Maesie Bertumen
Image of protesters in Ginowan: Chris Davis/Flickr