The victory of the ruling parties in the Okinawa Prefectural Government in the June 5 prefectural assembly election has bolstered the power base of Gov. Takeshi Onaga, who is opposing the controversial relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.
The ruling parties, including the Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and the Social Democratic Party (SDP), not only retained a majority in the assembly but also increased their strength by four to 27.
The outcome of the election was apparently influenced by not only the issue of relocating the Futenma base from Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago but also incidents by U.S. military personnel, including one in which a civilian base worker allegedly dumped the body of a local woman. The Japanese and U.S. governments should take this harsh reality seriously.
The Japanese and U.S. governments have worked out measures to tighten discipline among U.S. military personnel in Japan to prevent a recurrence for fear that the incident could have a serious political impact.
U.S. forces in Okinawa Prefecture banned service personnel and civilian workers from drinking outside their bases and going out after midnight for about a month from late May and took other measures to tighten discipline. The Japanese government has also responded to the incident by implementing measures to prevent crimes involving U.S. military personnel, such as the installation of additional security cameras and assigning about 100 additional officers to Okinawa Prefectural Police.
Nevertheless, a U.S. naval officer caused a traffic accident in the prefecture while driving under the influence of alcohol shortly before the prefectural assembly election.
Whenever an accident or crime involving U.S. servicemen or civilian military workers occurs in Okinawa Prefecture, the Japanese and U.S. governments pledge to tighten discipline among personnel, improve education and implement measures to prevent a recurrence. However, such superficial measures appear to be ineffective.
The Japanese defense minister and his U.S. counterpart have agreed to review the scope of civilian workers at U.S. forces in Japan defined by the bilateral status-of-forces agreement. However, the two countries will do so by changing the interpretation of the accord rather than revising it. Such a measure is far from sufficient.
Questions have been raised over whether the content of education for personnel that U.S. forces will teach thoroughly is appropriate. It has come to light that biased teaching materials, which state that public opinion in Okinawa about the base issue is emotional and based on double standards and that Okinawa politicians use the base issue as a lever, were used in training sessions for newly recruited Marines. Such materials could only lead to a sense of discrimination against Okinawa. If the situation is to remain unchanged, U.S. forces in Okinawa cannot conduct thorough education effective in preventing a recurrence.
In a January mayoral election in the city of Ginowan, the incumbent mayor backed by the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe beat a candidate supported by Gov. Onaga. However, candidates opposing the relocation of the base to Henoko won the 2014 Nago mayoral and Okinawa gubernatorial elections and the 2014 House of Representatives election in the prefecture -- in which the relocation of the base was a key point of contention.
The outcome of the latest prefectural assembly election shows that Okinawa's public opinion against the relocation of Futenma base to Nago remains unchanged.
Onaga described the outcome as a major victory for the anti-base relocation camp, and said, "I'll continue to work to prevent the construction of a new base in Henoko."
Gov. Onaga's political base has certainly been consolidated as a result of the victory of anti-base members of the assembly. The Abe government should change its stubborn attitude toward the base relocation issue.
Numerous prefectural residents are demanding revisions to the Japan-U.S. Status-of-Forces Agreement as well as the integration and a reduction of U.S. bases in Okinawa including a review of the plan to relocate the Futenma base to Henoko. Tokyo and Washington cannot regain the trust of prefectural residents unless they sincerely respond to Okinawa's public opinion.