A civic group in Okinawa demanded Wednesday a local referendum on the controversial plan to relocate a key U.S. military base within the prefecture with signatures of some 93,000 people, more than four times the figure required by law.
The direct request was made to Deputy Okinawa Gov. Kiichiro Jahana, who took charge of the base relocation issue following the death of Gov. Takeshi Onaga last month. Jahana told the group he intends to convene a prefectural assembly meeting later this month and present a proposal to hold a referendum.
“I firmly received (the signatures) as a person to whom the baton was handed over by Gov. Takeshi Onaga,” Jahana told civic group members, indicating his intention to back the referendum proposal.
The Local Autonomy Law stipulates a municipality head must present to the assembly a draft ordinance to hold a referendum together with his or her opinion within 20 days after accepting a direct request for the plebiscite from eligible voters.
The law allows the direct request by citizens if they collect valid signatures from one-50th of all voters. In the case of Okinawa, the required number was about 23,000, according to the group.
A majority of the prefectural assembly members are opposed to the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa, setting the stage for approval of the referendum proposal. However, whether the plebiscite will be held depends on a decision by the new Okinawa governor to be elected in the Sept. 30 contest.
The civic group collected signatures for two months from late May and had their validity checked by local election boards.
Onaga, who died on Aug. 8, had opposed the plan to move the Futenma base from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to the less populated coastal district of Henoko in Nago, both in Okinawa, and demanded the facility be moved outside the prefecture.
Many local residents of the southern island prefecture, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan, are on the same page due to accidents and crimes involving U.S. military personnel.
The upcoming election to choose Onaga’s successor is expected to be a two-way battle between opposition lawmaker Denny Tamaki who is against the transfer plan, and Atsushi Sakima, a former Ginowan mayor backed by the Liberal Democratic Party of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who has been pushing for the relocation.
The legal grounds for construction work for the base move have been lost since Okinawa Prefecture retracted last Friday its approval of landfill work for the project in accordance with Onaga’s desire.