NAHA -- An Okinawa Prefectural Assembly panel here passed a draft ordinance on Oct. 24 for a local referendum on the central government's controversial plan to relocate a U.S. Marine base inside the southernmost prefecture.
The full assembly is expected to pass the bill on Oct. 26 to pave the way for the referendum to be held by next spring.
The result of the poll will not be legally binding, but may affect the future of the intense confrontation between the central and prefectural governments over the plan. Yet the referendum may not be conducted in all Okinawa municipalities, which will administer the voting, as the city assembly of Ishigaki has adopted a motion against it.
The central government plans to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the southern Okinawa city of Ginowan to the coastal Henoko district in the city of Nago in the north part of the prefecture. The plan is based on a 1996 agreement between Tokyo and Washington. But the prefectural government and many local residents oppose the plan, and the central government has sought an administrative decision to nullify the prefecture's retraction of permission for landfill work needed for the base move.
The referendum was proposed to the prefectural government by a citizens' group comprising university students and others that collected some 90,000 signatures seeking the vote. The prefecture submitted the draft referendum ordinance in September.
The original draft had a simple "Yes" or "No" choice on the base relocation, but the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, opposition parties in the assembly, proposed adding "Cannot be helped" and "Don't know" options during discussions at the panel in charge of the referendum. The local ruling camp supporting Gov. Denny Tamaki essentially supported the original plan while proposing some minor changes to the text. The panel voted down the opposition amendment in favor of the ruling side's proposal.
The draft calls for the referendum to be conducted within six months after the ordinance is promulgated. If either yes or no votes top 25 percent of all eligible voters, the governor "must respect the result," according to the draft.
(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)