• Okinawa anti-US base faction appears close to retaining majority in prefectural assembly

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    NAHA, Okinawa Pref.: Okinawa’s anti-base faction appeared close to retaining its majority in the prefectural assembly Sunday evening.

    Unofficial tallies by Kyodo News indicated that candidates who ran in opposition to relocating the US Marine base at Futenma, in central Okinawa, to the northern part of the main island had won 21 seats, four short of a majority in the 48-seat chamber. The final result is expected late Sunday or early Monday morning.

    Winning the majority will be a victory for Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who also opposes the Henoko plan, and his followers, and it will represent a setback for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and the Liberal Democratic Party, whose prefectural members are in the opposition.

    Officially, 71 candidates were vying for the assembly’s 48 seats, although two districts in Nago were uncontested.

    Before being dissolved, the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito were in the minority. The majority supports Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who took the prefecture’s helm after campaigning against the construction of a replacement facility in Nago’s Henoko district for US Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which sits in densely populated Ginowan.

    Of the 71 candidates, 37 were from a half dozen parties, including the Japanese Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party, that back Onaga. Another 12, including four from Komeito, four independents and three from Osaka Ishin no Kai, officially declared themselves “neutral,” positioning themselves between the Onaga supporters and the LDP. The LDP itself was backing 19 candidates, including three independents.

    Despite statements from Abe’s administration last week that the election results will have no impact on the Futenma relocation plan, the central government has made numerous efforts to quell Okinawan anger stemming from the murder of Rina Shimabukuro, 20, allegedly by a US civilian worker at Kadena Air Base.

    Subsequent promises by senior Abe administration officials to beef up security and take preventive action have largely failed to curb calls to revise the US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement, even among local LDP members.

    A meeting in Singapore on Saturday between Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and US Defense Secretary Ash Carter produced an agreement to review SOFA implementation practices related to U.S. personnel with SOFA status, including the civilian component.

    However, Okinawan media were quick to point out that it did not meet growing demands in the prefecture for a formal SOFA revision to give local officials, especially the police, more authority and autonomy when dealing with incidents involving US military personnel, their dependents or civilian workers.

    With news Sunday that an American sailor attached to Kadena was arrested late Saturday evening after being involved in a drunken driving accident that injured two Japanese, central government officials once again found themselves forced to respond.

    The Foreign Ministry said Sunday afternoon that Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida had contacted US Ambassador Caroline Kennedy over the incident, expressing deep regret that it occurred while Okinawa was still in mourning over the Shimabukuro slaying.

    Kennedy extended an apology and expressed concern over the two victims of the incident and said the US will cooperate with the investigation.

    But Okinawan political resolve for officially revising SOFA is likely to grow stronger in the coming days, regardless of Sunday’s results or central government and US statements. TNS

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