monday, 4 february of 2019


U.S. base relocation referendum to cover all Okinawa voters

All eligible voters in Okinawa will be able to take part in a referendum on a key U.S. air base transfer plan within the prefecture later this month, as three Okinawa cities that were opposed to it said Friday they have changed their position.

The Feb. 24 referendum will ask people their opinion of the controversial Japan-U.S. base relocation plan, with Gov. Denny Tamaki hoping its outcome, although not legally binding, will further demonstrate Okinawa’s opposition to the plan.

The current ordinance on Okinawa prefectural referendums calls on governors to respect outcomes supported by at least a quarter of eligible voters.

Five cities, including the final three holdouts, had objected to the original plan, in which voters would cast ballots of only “yes” and “no” on the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal area of Henoko in Nago, arguing that residents have various opinions.

After the prefectural assembly passed a bill on Tuesday to revise the ordinance on the referendum allowing the choice of a third option of “neither,” two mayors expressed their willingness by Thursday to take part, and they were followed by the other three on Friday.

I think the Okinawa people are very pleased” with the three cities’ decision, Tamaki told reporters.

Ishigaki Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama told reporters after the municipal assembly on Friday adopted the budget related to the voting that the city will cooperate with the prefecture on the vote.

Nakayama and the two other mayors had said they would not join the referendum as their local assemblies in December rejected related budgets.

I appreciate that some assembly members who had been against (the referendum) finally showed understanding,” said Okinawa Mayor Sachio Kuwae, while Ginowan Mayor Masanori Matsugawa said his city values the addition of the third choice for voters.

Tamaki, who won a gubernatorial election last September with his antibase campaign platform, had sought to hold the referendum in all 41 Okinawa municipalities, fearing a low turnout could undermine the validity of the results, and had urged the five cities to join the voting.

Some of the five municipalities had initially said they would take part if the prefectural assembly unanimously approved revision of the ordinance.

As there were objections to the bill from some Liberal Democratic Party members close to the central government’s policy of pushing forward the planned base relocation, it was unclear whether the referendum would cover all eligible voters.

Many residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, are frustrated with noise, crime and accidents linked to them and want the Futenma base to be moved outside the prefecture.

(Published by The Japan Times, February 01, 2019)

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