The Defense Ministry’s Okinawa bureau chief strongly denied Friday trying to sway the way ministry officials and their relatives may vote in Ginowan’s mayoral election or encouraging them to support a specific candidate, but admitted his actions could be construed as unlawful.
Ro Manabe, giving unsworn testimony in the Diet, has faced withering criticism over allegedly attempting to sway certain voters in the Feb. 12 mayoral race, and opposition parties have been calling on Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka to sack him.
But Tanaka said later in the day he still hasn’t concluded Manabe’s actions were illegal and has yet to make a decision about the bureau chief’s fate.
The opposition camp claims Manabe suggested during two internal lectures last week that participants consider voting for the candidate whose stance is relatively closer to the government’s contentious plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from Ginowan to Nago, also in Okinawa.
Appearing before the Lower House Budget Committee, Manabe admitted he was fully responsible for coming up with the idea to compile a list of 80 ministry officials who live or have relatives living in Ginowan and to hold the lectures.
“I had no understanding at the time that my actions were illegal, but the Defense Ministry will ultimately hand down its decision and I think there is the possibility” that the lectures may be deemed unlawful, he said.
He said his intention was simply to encourage ministry officials and their relatives in Ginowan to vote because of the election’s importance.
“I am the one who came up with the idea and suggested (the lectures) and no one ordered me to do so,” Manabe stressed. “I considered them a part of my duty to instruct the officials thoroughly on the election.”
The Self-Defense Forces Law forbids SDF ranks from using their positions to politically influence others, while the Public Office Election Law bars public servants from engaging in poll campaigns. The SDF law categorizes civilian Defense Ministry officials such as Manabe as SDF personnel.
But Defense Minister Tanaka told the Budget Committee that “based on the contents of Manabe’s lectures we have been able to establish so far, we have not confirmed anything that indicates he instructed the officials to vote for a specific candidate.
“He encouraged the officials to go and vote . . . but there is an ongoing investigation and we cannot make a definite decision on whether the lectures infringed upon the related laws” until it is completed, Tanaka said, adding “the onus is on Manabe to explain” in greater detail.
Tanaka is, however, expected to make a decision before Ginowan’s mayoral campaign kicks off Sunday, to dispel any suggestion that the race has been unlawfully influenced.