U.S. base opponent re-elected Nago mayor as relocation plan rejected

Susumu Inamine secured a second term in Sunday's mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa, in which the planned relocation of a U.S. Marine base to the city was the central issue.

Inamine, 68, who opposes the construction of a new U.S. military facility in the city's Henoko district, defeated Bunshin Suematsu, 65, a former Okinawa prefectural assembly member who backs the relocation plan and was supported by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic Party.

Inamine garnered 19,839 votes, while Suematsu collected 15,684 votes. Turnout stood at 76.71 percent, down 0.25 percent from the previous election in 2010.

"The voters were able to demonstrate their will" regarding whether to accept the relocation of the base to the city, Inamine told reporters and throngs of supporters in Nago.

He vowed to block any work related to the relocation and reiterated that the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station should be moved "outside Okinawa."

"Creating a new base is definitely unacceptable, that is the will of the Okinawa people, and the residents of Nago also do not support (this relocation plan)," he said.

His victory is certain to significantly affect the planned construction of the replacement facility for the Futenma base as Inamine has said he will use his mayoral powers to block it.

Construction is likely to be delayed as the mayor has authority to approve the use of ports and roads, although Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved last month the central government's application for landfill work to build the facility.

The governor's decision, which came despite his pledge to seek the relocation of the U.S. base outside of Okinawa, marked a step forward for the long-stalled deal reached by Tokyo and Washington in 1996 to move the base. With Inamine's re-election, however, the prospects for the relocation plan appear more uncertain.

Nakaima and the ruling LDP had thrown their support behind Suematsu, who said in a stump speech Saturday that he "wants to create a new Nago" by making use of his connections with the central government to revitalize the local economy.

But Suematsu failed to gain sufficient support despite the apparent efforts of Abe's government to secure votes by offering hefty aid to the city.

More than 140 supporters gathered at Inamine's election campaign headquarters broke into cheers and whistles after news of his projected victory came in.

One cried, some embraced and others rejoiced while reading a special edition newspaper with a headline announcing Inamine's projected win.

Hiroshi Ashitomi, who leads a sit-in campaign against the Henoko relocation, raised his arms in joy and shouted to other supporters, "With this (outcome), it will now be Gov. Nakaima's resignation!"

Nakaima's decision to give the green light for the landfill work has irked residents of Okinawa and caused base relocation opponents to step up their protests.

On the back of local residents' anger, the Okinawa prefectural assembly earlier this month adopted a resolution urging Nakaima to resign for reneging on his election pledge to have the Futenma base moved outside the island prefecture.

But Nakaima flatly denied the possibility of stepping down following Suematsu's defeat. The governor also indicated he does not intend to review the approved landfill work, telling reporters in the prefectural capital Naha, "Since it was already approved, there is no way we can do anything about it."

Inamine had the support of the Japanese Communist Party, the People's Life Party, the Social Democratic Party and a local political party.

The central government is pushing to relocate the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan, also in Okinawa, to Henoko in Nago. But antibase sentiment runs deep in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, with many local residents wanting the base moved outside the island prefecture.