NAHA, Okinawa Pref. — Residents in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, presented a petition with 19,734 voter signatures to the municipal election management commission on Aug. 13, calling for an ordinance to provide for a plebiscite on construction of a U.S. Marine Corps offshore heliport.

The number of signatures far exceeded the figure required for voters to have the local assembly debate an enactment of an ordinance under the Local Government Law. An ordinance can be called if the figures exceed 2 percent of Nago’s total eligible voters, who number about 38,000.

The same day, the Naha Defense Facility Administration Bureau started boring operations off Camp Schwab, near Nago, as part of its feasibility study for the heliport, which would replace Futenma Air Station. It plans to bore at 15 sites in the area until the end of October.

After the election management commission has checked the validity of the signatures, the group plans to directly ask Nago Mayor Tetsuya Higa in early September to propose the ordinance to the municipal assembly.

The Nago assembly debate on the plebiscite looks set to attract public attention in the coming months. Of 29 assembly members, 18 are said to be opposed to the plebiscite.

The citizens’ group seeks to hold the proposed plebiscite before the end of the year.

If held, it will be the first ballot in Japan on construction of a U.S. military installation, and votes against the facility are expected to highly surpass those supporting it.

Although the results do not have legal binding, Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto stated clearly that the central government would not make a decision without local consent.

The plebiscite issue is expected to influence the planned reversion of the Futenma heliport and the debate on security in the autumn Diet session.

However, the resident group asserts that the assembly must respect the will of such a large number of voters, whose signatures were collected in less than one month.

Higa’s proposal for enactment of the ordinance is also expected to attract public attention because he agreed to the preliminary heliport study for the site offshore from Camp Schwab.

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