NAHA -- A total of eight municipal assemblies in Okinawa Prefecture have voted down allocating budget funds necessary for local governments to administer a referendum on the relocation of a U.S. Marine base within the southernmost prefecture.
The move makes it increasingly unlikely that the referendum, scheduled for Feb. 24 next year over the pros and cons of transferring U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma from the city of Ginowan to the Henoko district of the city of Nago, will be held in all of the prefecture's 41 cities, towns and villages.
On Dec. 20, the municipal assemblies of Ginowan and two other cities rejected allocating a budget for holding the referendum. Miyakojima Mayor Toshihiko Shimoji even announced on Dec. 18 that the city will not carry out the referendum, after its assembly passed a budget bill omitting funds necessary for the poll.
The Okinawa Prefectural Government has called on municipalities to earmark budgets for the referendum at the discretion of their mayors, stating that they are obliged to carry out administrative work for the referendum based on a prefectural ordinance for the poll.
The prefectural assembly passed the ordinance for the referendum in October after a citizens group collected some 90,000 signatures calling for the poll under the Local Autonomy Act and submitted them to the prefectural government.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki has pushed the referendum, saying it "will provide an essential opportunity for prefectural residents to have their wishes directly reflected" in the relocation plan. The central government moved to begin land reclamation work in the coastal areas of Henoko for the relocation on Dec. 14.
After the Ginowan city assembly voted down a budget bill necessary for ballot counting and other work for the referendum, Mayor Masanori Matsukawa called for redoing the vote, but the bill was struck down again. A legislator belonging to a conservative group in the assembly said, "The sentiment of local residents, who have suffered from noise pollution from the base, cannot be explained simply by a vote of for or against the base relocation to Henoko. The referendum will split the citizens apart."
The prefectural government insists that local municipalities are capable of setting aside budget funds for the referendum by exercising the mayor's authority under the Local Autonomy Act even after budget funds are turned down by assemblies, saying those budgets are "mandatory expenditures."
In response, Ginowan Mayor Matsukawa is poised to draw a conclusion on the matter at the beginning of next week. The mayors of the cities of Uruma and Okinawa, meanwhile, will request their assemblies to reconsider their rejection on Dec. 20 of providing budget funds for the referendum. Okinawa Vice Gov. Kiichiro Jahana on Dec. 20 met Miyakojima Mayor Shimoji over his declaration to forgo the referendum. Shimoji was quoted as telling Jahana that, "I respect the decision by the assembly" against allocating a budget for the poll, according to the prefectural government. The prefectural government then issued an advisory to the city calling for budget appropriation for the referendum in accordance with the Local Autonomy Act.
(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau, and Hiroshi Higa, Kyushu News Department)