Following decades of protest against the controversial U.S. military base in Okinawa, Japan, plans to move that base to a different location on the island faced new challenges Sunday after the re-election of a mayor who has promised to block the move.
Susumu Inamine, the mayor of Nago—where Japan plans on moving the base—ran on an anti-base campaign, defeating pro-base challenger Bunshin Suematsu, who was backed by prime minister Shinzo Abe's Liberal Democratic party (LDP).
Inamine could stand in the way of a deal between Okinawa's governor Hirokazu Nakaima, a long-time critic of the U.S. base for its placement in the densely populated city of Ginowan, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who proposed roughly $2.9 billion in aid in exchange for the replacement base in Nago.
"The plan must go back to square one," Inamine told reporters on Sunday. "I will reject all procedures that are premised on the landfill project," he said in reference to the planned site of construction.
Inamine's victory will give "momentum" to the anti-base movement "and the opposition campaign could spread," Takashi Kawakami, a professor at Takushoku University, told Reuters after Inamine's victory.
Abe, who is up for reelection on February 9, "will probably try to forge ahead but there will probably be an opposition movement," said Kawakami, adding that if this unrest is reported in the media daily, "Abe's support rates could fall."
While some praised the plan to move the U.S. military base from the densely populated location—that has been marred with decades of accidents, pollution, crime, and violence against residents—others were unhappy that the site would simply be moved to a new location within Okinawa, regardless of the new city's population.
Last month thousands of protesters in Nago took to the streets following the announcement, calling for the removal of the base from the island altogether.
“Okinawa residents cannot tolerate the base relocation within the prefecture,” said protester Akira Oshiro, 53.
Opposition to any new base on the island is strong in the prefecture. Okinawans are "fed up with playing host to an outsized share of the U.S. military presence in Japan," as Agence France-Presse reported at the time.
It was unclear as to how much control Inamine will have over the planned construction, and Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said on Monday the central government plans to move forward with the plan despite resistance.
"The governor approved the landfill project last year and, while explaining and seeking understanding as much as possible, we want to move ahead," Suga said.