Majority approval sends bill on base leases to Upper House

A government-sponsored bill that will enable the state to continue forcibly leasing land for U.S. military bases in Okinawa Prefecture was sent to the Upper House Friday after receiving overwhelming support in the Lower House.

The bill is certain to be approved by the House of Councilors by the end of next week.

The bill was backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and three opposition parties, including Shinshinto and the Democratic Party of Japan. The LDP’s non-Cabinet ally, the Social Democratic Party, opposed the bill.

But a few SDP members, including former Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama, did not cast a ballot. Murayama was prime minister when the dispute over Okinawa land use for the U.S. military erupted in 1995.

He left the chamber hall just before the bill was put to a vote, and said he had no choice but to skip the voting.

“Although the bill is a bad one, I also understand through my experience of serving as prime minister that the government should never allow the conditions in which the state loses legal basis related to the land lease,” he told reporters. He said it was the “first time in my (21-year) career as a legislator that I abstained from voting.”

SDP leader Takako Doi said Murayama’s move was regrettable but added that she understands the ex-prime minister’s feelings. Doi meanwhile said she would ask another SDP lawmaker, Katsuhiko Yoshimitsu, why he voted for the bill.

Among Shinshinto members, Taiichi Shiraho was the only one who did not follow the party’s decision to support the bill.

Shiraho, elected from Okinawa, repeatedly said before the voting that he could not vote for the bill as a representative of Okinawans. Understanding his feelings, Shinshinto leaders said the party had no plan to punish him.