I just don’t get it. If you have a referendum, the people vote “No”, and you go ahead anyway, you are worse off than you were had you simply gone ahead without the referendum. I mean, you’ve gone out of your way to demonstrate to your voting public that their opinions do not matter and any pretense at democratic principles is only that – a pretense. How in the hell is that a good idea when the very subject matter is that the USAF base feels like an Imperial occupation?? If you had a medium-term goal of leaving the islands alone, and needed to drum up political support for that, then it would be plausibly a good idea. Otherwise? ~ Rick
TOKYO (Reuters) – A majority of voters in a referendum on Okinawa opposed a plan to relocate a U.S. military base within the southern Japanese island, but the central government said on Monday it intended to press ahead with its construction plans.The relocation site for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma where land reclamation work continues is seen in the Henoko coastal district in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo February 23, 2019. Picture taken February 23, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
Just over 70 percent of voters opposed relocating the U.S. Marines’ Futenma air base within Okinawa in Sunday’s non-binding referendum, with a turnout of 53 percent. Okinawa governor Denny Tamaki was elected on that platform in September.
Okinawa is host to the bulk of U.S. military forces in Japan, whose alliance with Washington is central to its security. Many Okinawa residents associate the bases with crime, pollution and accidents.
The governor is required to respect the outcome and notify the premier and the U.S. president if the top response was backed by more than 25 percent of eligible voters.
Tokyo’s central government and Okinawa authorities have long been at loggerheads over the plan to move the air base.
A U.S.-Japan agreement calls for moving the base, which is surrounded by schools, hospitals and shops, to a less populated area, called Henoko, on the northern part of Okinawa.
However many Okinawa residents, indignant at what they see as an unfair burden, want the base off the island altogether.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters on Monday the government was taking the results seriously, and would work to obtain the understanding of Okinawa residents, but that plans to move the base could not be deferred.
“We cannot avoid the necessity of moving Futenma, said to be the most dangerous base in the world,” Abe said, noting that two decades had passed since the agreement to do so was made.
“We can’t put this off any longer,” he said.Local residents read an extra edition newspaper reporting results of a U.S. base relocation plan in a referendum in Naha, Okinawa prefecture, Japan February 24, 2019, in this photo taken by Kyodo. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS
Tamaki called on the government to accept the “firm decision” of the Okinawa people that the base relocation was unacceptable.
“I urge the government to change their view that relocating the base to Henoko is the only way and halt construction, along with more dialogue with us on closing Futenma and returning the land to us,” Tamaki said.
The referendum result was unlikely to derail the central government’s stance, said former Chuo University professor Steven Reed.
“It’s not a matter of local government policy. It’s a matter for foreign policy. The deal has been made,” he said.
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The outcome could give a bit of a boost to the struggling opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan (CDPJ) – the largest among Japan’s opposition groups – ahead of an upper house election this year, Reed said.
The CDPJ opposes the Futenma relocation plan.
“It could make a substantial difference in the next election in Okinawa and it could make some difference nationwide,” he said.
Support for the CDPJ was just under 6 percent in a February survey by public broadcaster NHK, dwarfed by about 37 percent for Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party.