Parties gear up for gubernatorial poll in Sept. after Onaga’s death

NAHA, Japan (The Japan News/ANN) - In response to the death of Okinawa Gov. Takeshi Onaga, a gubernatorial election will be held as early as September. A plan to hold voting and ballot counting on Sept. 23 or 30 is gaining traction, and the ruling and opposition parties are gearing up for a race for the governorship.

 Onaga, who opposed the central government’s plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Futenma Air Station in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district in Nago, in the same prefecture, died of pancreatic cancer on Wednesday. He was 67.
 The gubernatorial election was initially scheduled for Nov. 18, as his term of office was due to expire on Dec. 9. 
 Under the Public Offices Election Law, within five days starting the day after the death of a governor, an official of the prefectural government performing duties on behalf of the governor notifies the prefecture’s election administration committee of the death. 
A gubernatorial election is held no more than 50 days from the day after the notification. In consideration of the preparatory work that needs to be done, a late September date for voting and ballot counting is believed to be most likely.
 On Wednesday, the parliamentary group of ruling parties in the prefectural assembly — including the Social Democratic Party, which had supported Onaga — held an emergency meeting to discuss how to handle the election.
 As the group had been preparing for the election on the assumption of Onaga running again, it is expected to face difficulty selecting a candidate in his place.
 The Okinawa prefectural chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party has decided to field Ginowan Mayor Atsushi Sakima, 54, on the party ticket. It held an emergency meeting in Naha on Thursday morning, accelerating its preparations for the election.
 Concerning the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko, the prefectural government was expected to hold a hearing on Thursday afternoon to listen to the opinions of the Defense Ministry’s Okinawa Defense Bureau, which opposes the prefectural government on this matter, a necessary procedure if the prefecture wants to withdraw its approval of the land reclamation.
 The central government intends to dump sand and earth in the planned reclamation area as early as Aug. 17. The prefectural government aims to withdraw its approval before this work starts.
 Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said at a press conference in Nagasaki on Thursday: “I was surprised by the unexpected news of his death. I pray that his soul rests in peace.”
 Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference the same day, “There is no change in our view that [the relocation of the Futenma base to Henoko] is the only solution.”