NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – Some parts of Okinawa may not participate in a local referendum on a controversial relocation plan for a U.S. air base within the island prefecture after its assembly failed to unanimously pass a resolution Tuesday.
After some municipalities in the prefecture opposed a plan to have voters cast ballots of only “yes” or “no” on the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma’s relocation in the Feb. 24 referendum, the assembly adopted a draft of the revised ordinance by a majority vote allowing the residents to vote “neither.”
The mayors of five cities are against the referendum unless the revision to the ordinance is approved unanimously, arguing local people have various opinions on the issue.
Some assembly members from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party opposed having three ballot options in the referendum.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki, who won the gubernatorial election last September based on his objection to the relocation of the base from a crowded residential area of Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, is hoping the referendum will further demonstrate Okinawa’s opposition to the plan even though its result is not legally binding.
Fearing a low turnout could undermine the validity of the referendum, Tamaki wants to conduct the referendum in all of the prefecture’s 41 cities, towns and villages, and has urged the five cities, including Ginowan, to take part in the referendum.
The current Okinawa prefectural ordinance on referendums calls on governors to respect an outcome supported by at least a quarter of eligible voters.
To prevent the central government from proceeding further with the construction of a replacement facility in Henoko, the Okinawa government revoked last August an approval for the reclamation work for the relocation given by Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima in 2013. Land minister Keiichi Ishii, however, temporarily suspended the revocation in October, leading to the resumption of the work.
In a related development Tuesday, 16 Okinawan residents opposed to the transfer plan filed a lawsuit with the Okinawa District Court, seeking the revocation of Ishii’s decision, which they argue is illegal as long as the minister cannot be neutral in a dispute involving the central and Okinawa governments.
They also called for the suspension of the minister’s decision until the court announces the ruling because the landfill work and its environmental impact cannot be reversed.
Many residents of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, want the Futenma base to be moved outside the prefecture.