By Kiyoshi Takenaka
TOKYO (Reuters) – Danny Tamaki, the son of a U.S. Marine and Japanese mother, was elected governor of Japan’s Okinawa island on Sunday on an anti-U.S military presence platform, defeating a candidate backed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling bloc, domestic media reported.
Tamaki defeated Atsushi Sakima who ran with the support of Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, NHK and Kyodo news agency said.
Public broadcaster NHK showed a jubilant Tamaki and his supporters cheering and dancing after news of his victory.
A former radio personality who went into local politics and was elected to parliament in 2009, Tamaki, 58, opposes the planned relocation of the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base within Okinawa. His stance is the same as his predecessor, Takeshi Onaga, who died of pancreatic cancer last month while in office.
Tokyo’s central government and Okinawa authorities have long been at loggerheads over the plan to move the air base.
A U.S.-Japan agreement calls for moving the base, which is surrounded by schools, hospitals and shops, to a less populated area, called Henoko, on the northern part of Okinawa.
But many Okinawa residents, indignant at what they see as an unfair burden for supporting the bulk of U.S military forces in Japan, want the base off the island altogether.
The victory of Tamaki follows soul searching in Japan about what it means to be Japanese after Naomi Osaka, 20, won the U.S. Open tennis title, the first Grand Slam win by a Japan-born tennis player. Osaka is the daughter of a Haitian-born father and Japanese mother and has dual Japanese and U.S. citizenship.
Sakima’s defeat is a headache for Abe, as the Okinawa vote was the first high-profile election after he won an LDP leadership election this month, putting himself on track to become Japan’s longest-serving premier.
Senior politicians from the ruling bloc had visited Okinawa over the past few weeks to throw their weight behind Sakima, underlining the significance of the outcome of the election.
Sakima had focussed on economic policies to spur Okinawa’s growth for Japan’s poorest prefecture during his campaign.
Delays in relocating the U.S. base have been an irritant in Japan’s relations with ally the United States at a time when Tokyo faces China’s growing military power.
(Writing by Kiyoshi Takenaka and Linda Sieg. Editing by Jane Merriman)