The Social Democratic Party may leave the three-party ruling bloc if U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma remains in Okinawa as agreed to under a 2006 relocation accord between Tokyo and Washington, SDP President Mizuho Fukushima indicated Thursday.
If the pacifist party breaks with the coalition, it could destabilize the government because the ruling bloc, led by the Democratic Party of Japan, would lose its majority in the Upper House.
The SDP has five seats and the ruling bloc, not counting the SDP, has 120 seats in the 242-seat chamber.
“This issue touches on the foundation of the SDP,” Fukushima said during a meeting of party executives Thursday, according to SDP officials.
“If this Cabinet decides to build a base over the sea in the coastal area of Henoko, the SDP and I will have to make a grave decision,” she reportedly said, hinting her party may leave the coalition if the pact goes ahead.
Under the 2006 Japan-U.S. accord, the two governments agreed to relocate Futenma to the U.S. Marine Corps Camp Schwab in Henoko in the northern part of Okinawa Island, by 2014. Residents near Futenma complain of noise pollution and have dealt with accidents in the densely populated area.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama’s administration has been talking to the U.S., with an eye to revising the accord in order to transfer the base outside Okinawa, but the U.S. considers the matter settled. The SDP is meanwhile pressuring the DPJ to get tougher with the U.S.
“This is not an easy issue to begin with. But with regard to the sentiment of the people of Okinawa, we must remove the risk as soon as possible,” Hatoyama said Thursday, hinting Tokyo and Washington may fail to reach a new agreement over the relocation issue by the end of the year.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirofumi Hirano was more direct, telling reporters he “never said the issue must be resolved within the year,” adding the prime minister shares that view.
Although Washington has pushed for a quick decision, Hirano maintained that failure to reach one within the year “would not mean everything will be over.” He also said ties with the United States will stay strong even if the base issue remains unresolved into next year.
Fukushima, who has served as SDP president since 2003, announced Wednesday she will run for a fourth term in this month’s party election. She is expected to be reinstalled without a vote since Lower House member Kantoku Teruya, whom the Okinawa labor union was pushing as next leader, announced Thursday he will not run.
The SDP draws support from labor unions and left-leaning pacifist groups, both of which are calling for Futenma to be moved outside Okinawa.
Touching on Fukushima’s comments, Hatoyama told reporters his administration doesn’t take its coalition partners lightly.
“We want to take the opinions of the SDP and Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) seriously, because this is a three-party coalition,” Hatoyama said.