The surprise settlement announced Friday between the central government and Okinawa Prefecture over the relocation of a U.S. military base may have been born out of concern the ongoing dispute would have on this summer’s House of Councilors election by the Abe administration, according to informed sources.
In a largely unexpected move, the central government agreed to an out-of-court settlement for lawsuits filed over the plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma in Ginowan to the Henoko coastal region, where a replacement facility will be built.
The settlement created a truce of sorts in the conflict even though both parties have still not shown any clear signs of compromise on the relocation. The two sides will hold talks on the issue, but it is uncertain whether they will reach an agreement.
The central and Okinawa governments settled their legal battle in response to a proposal in January by the Fukuoka High Court’s Naha branch in Okinawa, which put forward two settlement plans.
The “fundamental” settlement plan called on the prefecture to reinstate its permission for land reclamation at Henoko, as the central government demanded. Tokyo, for its part, was urged to negotiate with Washington to have the planned replacement facility in Henoko returned to Okinawa within 30 years or made available for use by the private sector.
The other plan, intended as a “provisional” settlement, recommended both sides to resume talks on the base issue out of court after the government dropped its suit against the prefecture and halted relocation work at Henoko.
The central government was initially negative about both plans. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeatedly said that the landfill permission was a done deal and that there were no legal problems.
According to a source in the know, the court’s offer to mediate a settlement was “unexpected” by the central government as it saw “a 99.9 percent chance of winning” the court battle.
What drove the central government to suddenly change its stance appears to be concern that if it maintained a rigid position over the Okinawa base issue, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party could suffer setbacks in the forthcoming elections, including the Upper House poll, sources familiar with the matter said.
It is not surprising that such a view has gained some currency, especially amid persistent speculation that Abe could dissolve the House of Representatives for a double election of both the lower and upper chambers.
At a news conference Friday, Suga denied that the government took into account the Upper House election when it decided to accept the settlement with Okinawa.
However, an aide to the prime minister admitted, “Some consideration has been made for the Upper House election.”
The Abe administration has chosen not to cause a stir until summer, an LDP source said, adding that the administration “may be trying to prepare the ground for a double election.”