TOKYO (Reuters) -- Voters in Japan’s Okinawa re-elected their governor on Sunday, local media said, showing support for an independent who is backed by national opposition parties and who wants a smaller U.S. military footprint on the chain of islands near Taiwan.
Voters backed Denny Tamaki, public broadcaster NHK and other media said, an expected outcome that is nonetheless a sign pushback against the ruling party of Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.
In an acceptance speech to cheering supporters, Tamaki emphasized that he would continue to work to bolster the social safety net for the poor, highlighting how his re-election campaign had focused more on the economy.
Okinawa’s economy was hit hard by slumping tourism due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Okinawa is far closer to Taiwan than to Tokyo. China this summer launched five missiles into the sea close to Okinawa - and within Japan’s exclusive economic zone - during military exercises after U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its own.
Kishida’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) has pushed for increased defense spending to counter China, but media polls showed voters were likely to re-elect Tamaki, who was supported by a broad coalition of opposition parties.
The LDP backed Atsushi Sakima, a former mayor. Tamaki defeated him in 2018, partly by calling for the large Futenma U.S. air base to be moved outside the prefecture.
The U.S. military is a hot-button issue in Okinawa, which saw some of the bloodiest fighting in World War Two and has long resented the burden of hosting the majority of U.S. troops in Japan on facilities that take up 5% of Okinawa’s land.