Over 67 percent of Okinawa residents plan to vote against the central government’s controversial plan to transfer a key U.S. air base within the prefecture, in the local referendum set for Feb. 24, a Kyodo News poll showed Sunday.
While the result of the referendum will not be legally binding, Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki hopes the vote will demonstrate local opposition to the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in the country.
According to the opinion poll, which was conducted Saturday and Sunday on 1,047 eligible voters in the prefecture, 67.7 percent of respondents said they will cast a “no” vote on the base plan and only 15.8 percent said they will vote in favor of the relocation.
About 1.16 million Okinawa residents with Japanese citizenship aged 18 or over will be eligible to vote. Voters will have three options on the ballot asking what they think about building a replacement facility in a coastal area of Henoko — “yes,” “no” or “neither.”
Some 13.1 percent responded that they will vote “neither.” Of all the respondents, 86.3 percent said the central government should respect the referendum outcome.
Among those opposed to the base relocation within Okinawa, nearly 40 percent said they do not want a new U.S. military facility in the prefecture.
As for people supporting the transfer plan, about 55 percent said safety issues surrounding the Futenma base need to be addressed.
Under the referendum ordinance, the governor must “respect” the outcome of the plebiscite and notify the prime minister and U.S. president if it is approved by at least a quarter of eligible voters, or around 290,000 people.
Heavy U.S. military presence in Okinawa — a fierce battleground in World War II — has long been a source of conflict between the prefecture and Tokyo. Tamaki was elected in September on a promise to stop the U.S. base relocation, along with a pledge to seek a review of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement that gives certain legal privileges to U.S. military personnel, despite the central government taking precedence over the local government on matters related to the two countries’ alliance.
The relocation plan originated from an agreement reached between the Japanese and U.S. governments in 1996 after public anger was fueled by the 1995 rape of an Okinawa girl by three American servicemen.
Many residents of Okinawa, which reverted to Japan’s administration in 1972 after decades of U.S. military oversight following the war, are frustrated with noise, accidents and crime linked to the U.S. military presence and want the Futenma base moved outside the prefecture.
The central government has maintained that the current relocation plan is “the only solution” for removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, which is situated close to schools and homes in Ginowan, without undermining the deterrence provided by the Japan-U.S. security alliance.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration is pressing ahead with the transfer of the base to the Henoko coast, adjacent to U.S. Marine base Camp Schwab, despite a series of legal and administrative battles with the local government. Full-fledged land reclamation began in December in order to build air base runways.