The son of a US Marine has been elected governor of Okinawa after campaigning against Washington’s military presence on the southern Japanese island.
Denny Tamaki won the election Sunday with 55.1% of the vote, easily beating Atsushi Sakima who was backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
Tamaki said a “new era” had begun in Okinawa on his official Twitter account, saying the outcome reflected how “seriously” voters had taken the election.
“This victory doesn’t belong to Denny Tamaki. It belongs to everyone. The fight is just beginning,” he said.
The win further complicates the ongoing United States military presence in Okinawa, which it has maintained since the end of World War II, despite opposition among residents.
Positioned just east of the Chinese coastline and within flight distance of North Korea, the US bases in Okinawa represent an important asset for Washington’s military presence in the region.
Tamaki, whose mother is Japanese, is a well known local radio personality who was elected to parliament in 2009. During his campaign for governor, he vowed to oppose the construction of new US bases on the island.
The Okinawa bases have been controversial for years amid numerous reports of crimes committed by US servicemen, including rape and alcohol-related crashes.
In November 2017, a 61-year-old driver was killed when his car was struck by a US Marine with three times the legal blood alcohol limit. One month later a Japanese child was injured after he was struck by a window that fell from a US helicopter.
Washington and Tokyo agreed in 1996 to relocate the US military base at Ginowan, a densely-packed city, to a less populated area called Henoko in the northern part of the island. The decision to move the base followed protests over the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen.
But repeated protests over the planned Henoko location and years of political deadlock have delayed the the building of the new base. The Japanese government initially set a 2014 completion date, which it since delayed till 2019.
After Tamaki’s win was declared, cheers broke out at his campaign office followed by dancing in the traditional Okinawa-style.
Tamaki’s anti-US military stance mirrors that of his predecessor, Takeshi Onaga, who died of pancreatic cancer in August while still in office.
Speaking to a reporter after his victory, Tamaki said Onaga had “risked his life” to stop the construction of new US bases.
“I will firmly convey the will of the Okinawa people to oppose the construction of the new base to the central government and the US government accordingly,” he said.
Prime Minister Abe said his government “sincerely” accepted the result. “We continue to put our efforts towards the development of Okinawa and to reduce the burden on Okinawa people.”
But Abe’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the Japanese government’s plans regarding the bases hadn’t changed.