TOKYO – Denny Tamaki, who campaigned for criticizing the US military presence on the southwestern Japanese islands of Okinawa, won the governorship on Sunday defeating a government-backed candidate status quo
] The race was to elect a successor to Takeshi Onaga, who died of pancreatic cancer in August. He wanted the bases off Okinawa.
Tamaki, a lawmaker who promised to continue Onagas "spirit," thanked his supporters as his campaign office began to cheer and later began to dance after several major Japanese media polls
"The strong feelings of Takeshi Onaga, who risked his life to stop building more bases helped bring that victory, "Tamaki told reporters.
He defeated Atsushi Sakima, a mayor, who argued that Okinawa should work with the national government to solve the problem. The final vote was not available yet. But media reports say that Tamaki was in power in almost all areas of Okinawa, which ensured his victory as the votes were partially counted.
Tamaki's victory raises another question on Japan's plans for a new air base in Okinawa's coastal area, home to about half of the 54,000 US troops stationed in Japan, according to John S. Hutcheson, spokesman for the US forces in Japan and accounts for 64% of the land area used by US bases under a bilateral security agreement.
The agreement has long been protested by some as an unreasonable burden on Okinawa, which accounts for less than 1
Japan remains heavily dependent on the US for defense, but crimes by members of the military, including hit-and-run and rape, have outraged the people of Okinawa. They are also angry about noise pollution and the dangers of plane crashes.
Tamaki, whose father is a US Navy he never met, has often said he is a symbol of the plight of his people. His mother is Japanese.
"I can clearly say that in Okinawa we no longer want US bases that are destroying our peace and destroying our nature," Tamaki, 58, said during his campaign.
He has promised a policy that interests him about "the weak", workers, students and those who face discrimination.
Before Sakima, 54, became governor, he was mayor of Ginowan, where the Marines Air Force Base, Futenma, is the center of controversy over the government redistribution plan for US troops into the less populated Henoko in Nago, Okinawa.
The planning goes back to the rape of a student in 1995, in which three US soldiers were convicted. But the planning and construction of Henoko was repeatedly delayed due to local opposition to the bases.
Some also point to the threat that base construction, which includes a landfill, can also lead to coral reefs and the environment, dugong and other marine life.
Outside of Okinawa, the national government and public opinion seem to support strengthening Japan's security measures, as it faces nuclear threats from North Korea and China's growing military might. The administration of US President Donald Trump has also urged Japan to do more to defend itself.
Tamaki faced his followers, sometimes in joyful songs of "Denny! Denny! Denny!" Said his victory showed that people do not want the new base in Henoko.
"Henoko will not be allowed," Tamaki said.
"We are all family on earth," he said with the US "How we can coexist in understanding and peace should be our starting point."
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