Okinawa voters on Sunday handed an overwhelming victory to a gubernatorial candidate opposed to U.S. military bases, dealing another blow to plans by the U.S. government and Pentagon to construct a new military facility on the Japanese island.
Takeshi Onaga, who is the former mayor of the Okinawan capital of Naha, was declared winner on Sunday evening with a 100,000 vote lead, in an election in which 360,000 voted. Onaga ran on the pledge to oppose new U.S. military bases on the island, including the controversial Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.
For nearly 20 years, the U.S. has sought to transfer the Okinawa base from the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago, further to the north. This plan has been met with protests by residents, who oppose the hazards of proximity to the U.S. military presence, including sexual assaults by service members, violence, and the environmental threat to the area's ecosystems.
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"The new military base will not be built," Onaga told media outlets following his victory. "I will convey the will of the Okinawan people to the governments of Japan and the United States."
Onaga defeated former Governor Hirokazu Nakaima, who is aligned with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party—which is strongly in favor of the base transfer. Despite previously pledging to oppose the base relocation, Nakaima approved it last year.
Okinawa is home to over half of the 50,000 U.S. military service members in Japan, and over two-thirds of U.S. military bases in the country. The U.S. military presence is highly unpopular on the island and has been met with decades of resistance.