Okinawa mayor looks set to win second term

Ginowan mayor Atsushi Sakima raises his hands with supporters in celebration after he was re-elected in the mayoral election in Ginowan, on the Japanese southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo on Jan 24, 2016.
Ginowan mayor Atsushi Sakima raises his hands with supporters in celebration after he was re-elected in the mayoral election in Ginowan, on the Japanese southern island of Okinawa, in this photo taken by Kyodo on Jan 24, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO • Early exit polls following the mayoral election in Ginowan City, in Japan's Okinawa prefecture, indicate that incumbent Atsushi Sakima will secure a second four-year term as the city's mayor.

Mr Sakima, 51, is backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party bloc and is widely believed to support the central government's plans to relocate a controversial US military base within the prefecture, although he has not directly referred to the matter. He has pledged, however, to replace the existing US Marine Corps Air Station at Futenma with a Disney resort, although it is not yet known if Disney is on board.

Mr Keiichiro Shimura, a 63-year-old former prefectural government employee and Mr Sakima's opponent, was campaigning to see the base's relocation halted, the base shut down, the land returned to Okinawa and, if necessary, the base relocated outside the prefecture.

According to the Election Commission of Ginowan City, voter turnout was 40.4 per cent, some 1.79 per cent lower than that of the previous mayoral elections for the city, as of a few hours before the polls closed.

But those who opted to cast their votes early, which comprised 20 per cent of the electorate, were more than double that in the previous election, said public broadcaster NHK.

PRESSURE TO WIN

The Prime Minister's office is throwing everything at this election and if they lose, they've set themselves up to seem like quite a failure.

MS SHEILA SMITH, senior fellow for Japanese Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations, on the extent to which PM Shinzo Abe is banking on this mayoral election.

According to the election commission, there were 72,526 eligible voters. Polls officially closed at 8pm local time yesterday at the 16 polling stations across the city.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government dangled prospects of a bigger budget for Okinawa, backing for a Disney resort and promises of aid for impoverished children in Japan's second-poorest prefecture to boost the current mayor's chances.

Tokyo said last month it would boost Okinawa's budget by 1 billion yen (S$12 million) to 335 billion yen for the coming fiscal year, after cutting it last year in reaction to the election of anti-base governor Takeshi Onaga, and has backed plans to build a resort on the Futenma land once the base moves.

A win by Mr Sakima will not guarantee that all goes smoothly with the base move, but a loss would make it even harder, annoying Washington and denting Mr Abe's image six months before an election for Parliament's Upper House.

"The Prime Minister's office is throwing everything at this election and if they lose, they've set themselves up to seem like quite a failure," said Ms Sheila Smith, senior fellow for Japanese Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations.

XINHUA, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 25, 2016, with the headline 'Okinawa mayor looksset to win second term'. Print Edition | Subscribe