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All Okinawa municipalities to hold referendum on US base relocation

This file photo dated Dec. 14, 2018 shows the Henoko district of the city of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture, where landfill work is underway for the relocation of a U.S. military base in the southernmost prefecture. (Mainichi)

NAHA -- All 41 municipalities in Okinawa are now likely to hold a prefectural referendum on the controversial relocation of an American military base within the southernmost prefecture after major local political forces agreed on the poll format on Jan. 24.

Representatives of the political blocs in the prefectural assembly agreed to add "neither" to "yes" and "no" as a choice in the referendum on the construction of a U.S. military base in waters off the Henoko district of the city of Nago. Work is underway to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the city of Ginowan, also in Okinawa, based on a 1996 agreement between Japan and the United States.

The prefectural government will submit a revision to the prefectural ordinance on referendums at an emergency meeting of the prefectural assembly on Jan. 29, which is expected to be passed unanimously. With this development, mayors of five cities -- Ginowan, Okinawa, Uruma, Miyakojima and Ishigaki -- who had refused to carry out the referendum in their communities, are expected to agree to the poll.

One-third of eligible voters would have been unable to cast ballots should the five cities refused to take part in the referendum. The latest compromise among the prefectural assembly's ruling and opposition forces paved the way for the vote to be conducted throughout Okinawa.

The change in the poll format was proposed by assembly speaker Yonekichi Shinzato, who said that he was acting on a request from Komeito, the junior coalition partner in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)-led national government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Three ruling forces in the Okinawa assembly that support the anti-relocation Gov. Denny Tamaki, as well as the neutral parties of Komeito and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), indicated their intention to support the proposal.

The LDP had sought to change the referendum choices to "unavoidable," "no," and "neither." However, the party eventually relented after the mayors of the five holdout cities pledged to carry out the poll if the LDP backed the assembly speaker's three ballot options.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau)

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