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Okinawa's will on US base transfer shown in referendum, ball now in central gov't court

After it emerged that the majority of those who voted in the Okinawa prefectural referendum voted "no" to landfill work off the coast of Henoko in the northern Okinawa Prefecture city of Nago for a U.S. military base, members of a group instrumental in organizing the referendum, among others, cheers in the prefectural capital of Naha on the night of Feb. 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Toyokazu Tsumura)

NAHA -- Must Okinawa Prefecture continue to shoulder the heavy burden of U.S. military bases, even if it means filling up the beautiful ocean with soil and sand? After deep consideration, the people of Okinawa reached the conclusion that they are against landfill work taking place off the coast of the Henoko district of Nago, in northern Okinawa Prefecture.

The problem dates back 74 years. At the end of the Pacific theater of World War II, Okinawa was sacrificed to protect mainland Japan, leading to the loss of 25 percent of the local population. The U.S. military forcibly seized people's land using guns and bulldozers, and built military bases on them. U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is one of them.

Some 70 percent of the total land area exclusively used by U.S. military facilities in Japan lies in Okinawa Prefecture, which constitutes just 0.6 percent of the country's land area. Building a base in Henoko to replace Futenma is effectively saying to the Okinawan people, "We'll return some of your land, so give us your ocean in its place."

Futenma or Henoko? A 1996 agreement between the Japanese and U.S. governments came about as the result of the gang rape by three U.S. soldiers of a 12-year-old Okinawan girl the prior year, promising the return of the Futenma base to Japan. Since then, Okinawa has been presented with countless absurd choices. The people of Okinawa have continued to demonstrate their will in election after election. And now in its second prefectural referendum, which Okinawa would not have had to hold if politics had been functioning in the way that it should have, they once again said "no" to a new U.S. military base in Henoko. This "no" is also directed at the systemic discrimination that Okinawa has faced for the past 74 years.

Work related to landfill work has reached a turning point, after unexpectedly soft seabed in a section of the ocean off Henoko where land reclamation is planned emerged. This made it certain that time and money needed for related work will balloon. The central government should take the results of the Feb. 24 prefectural referendum seriously, stop related construction work, and review its plans.

It was young Okinawans who sought the latest prefectural referendum, and scrambled to collect signatures for a petition to have the ballot held. If the national government were to write off the conclusion that was reached through the efforts of young Okinawans who will be the leaders of the future, there will be no limit to the disappointment and distrust Okinawans will harbor toward mainland Japan. The people of Okinawa have given their answer. Now the ball is in the central government's and mainland Japan's court.

--- Exit polls show reasons for 'no,' 'yes,' and 'neither' votes

Exit polls were conducted Feb. 24 collaboratively by the Mainichi Shimbun and Ryukyu Broadcasting Corp. at 40 polling stations across Okinawa in a bid to reflect the views of all Okinawan voters.

Among those who said they voted "no" to the Henoko relocation of the Futenma base, 34 percent explained their reason as being "the Futenma air base should be dismantled unconditionally." Twenty-eight percent cited "environmental destruction," while 24 percent said "the burden of military bases, such as accidents and incidents, and damage incurred due to noise pollution, will become entrenched."

Meanwhile, among those who said they voted "yes," 58 percent cited "the elimination of the dangers posed by the Futenma air base" as their reason for their vote, while 17 percent said the relocation would "lead to economic stimulation."

Of those who said they voted "neither," 66 percent said that they "could not choose from the either-or option," while 18 percent said, "the results of the referendum will change nothing."

Among supporters of the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) -- led by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and a strong proponent of the construction of a replacement base for Futenma in Henoko -- a little over 50 percent said they voted in favor of the relocation, while a little under 40 percent voted against it.

In comparison, between nearly 90 percent to 100 percent of those who support parties in the opposition bloc in national politics said they voted "no." Of those who said they did not support any particular party, 79 percent said they voted "no," while "yes" votes stayed at 11 percent.

While political parties in support of Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki campaigned for voters to vote "no," the LDP and its national coalition partner Komeito refrained from party-based activities to promote "yes" votes. This may have led to LDP and Komeito supporters abstaining from voting.

Looking at voting trends among age groups, the higher the age group, the higher the rate of "no" votes. Between voters in their 30s and 50s, those who voted "no" made up between 70 and 79 percent of voters, while among those in their 60s and older, they comprised over 80 percent. The majority of voters between ages 18 and 29 also voted "no," but compared to other age groups, the ratio of those who voted "neither" was slightly greater.

Between genders, 82 percent of women voted "no," while 74 percent of men did so.

(Japanese original by Takayasu Endo, Naha Bureau, and Atsushige Nakamura, Kyushu News Department)

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