Takeshi Onaga (2nd L) and his supporters open a barrel of awamori, or rice brandy, to celebrate his victory in the Okinawa gubernatorial election on November 16.
JAPAN OUT AFP PHOTO / JIJI PRESS /Getty
Takeshi Onaga (2nd L) and his supporters open a barrel of awamori, or rice brandy, to celebrate his victory in the Okinawa gubernatorial election on November 16.

Story highlights

Takeshi Onaga beats incumbent governor who approved measure for base construction

"I'm determined to work toward canceling and withdrawing it," Onaga says

Plans to move the U.S. Marine air base had been held up for years by local opposition

CNN —  

The election of a new governor in Okinawa looks set to complicate controversial plans to relocate an unpopular U.S. air base on the Japanese island.

Takeshi Onaga, a staunch opponent of the base, comfortably defeated the incumbent, Hirokazu Nakaima, in the vote on Sunday and quickly vowed to do everything he could to prevent the construction of the new facility for the U.S. Marines.

“I’m determined to work toward canceling and withdrawing it,” he told reporters, according to the Japanese news agency Kyodo.

Nakaima approved a key measure late last year for the transfer of the Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is situated in a heavily populated area of Ginowan City.

The base is unpopular with local residents. Many Okinawans feel the American military brings noise, crime and environmental damage to their island. A number of rape cases involving U.S. military personnel over the years have intensified the anger.

About half of all U.S. military personnel in Japan are stationed on Okinawa.

The U.S. and Japanese governments want to move the Marine base to a more sparsely populated area in Nago City and to build runways out into the sea for the new facility.

But Onaga is calling for the base to be taken off Okinawa entirely.

The defeat of Nakaima, who had the support of Japan’s governing Liberal Democratic Party, creates a headache for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Before Nakaima’s approval last year, the relocation had been held up by local opposition since 1996, when Washington and Tokyo agreed on the original plan to move the base.

Onaga said he plans to investigate the legal soundness of Nakaima’s decision to give the go ahead for the land-fill work for the runways.

“We proved that the people of Okinawa disagree (with Nakaima),” Onaga said. He received 360,820 votes to Nakaima’s 261,076, Kyodo reported, citing the local election board.

CNN’s Yoko Wakatsuki contributed to this report.