Yonaguni Town Assembly rejects local referendum on deployment of Self-Defense Forces

September 25, 2012 Ryukyu Shimpo

On September 24, the Yonaguni Town Assembly voted on a bill proposing a referendum to ask the public about the construction of a Self-Defense Forces base in the island. The bill was rejected with two in favor and three opposed. Local residents initiated the bill but the assembly decided not to go ahead with a referendum because the bill was voted down. The members of the Yonaguni Reformation Conference who collected signatures for the initiative were dissatisfied with the assembly’s decision, and want to vote down the three assembly members who opposed the bill, as well as the chairman. While opposition party members Chiyoki Tasato and Toshio Sakimoto favored the bill, Kenichi Itokazu, Shigenori Takenishi and Sonkichi Sakihara, who are members of the ruling party, opposed it.

Both Tasato and Sakimoto stated the need to form a consensus with local residents by direct democracy process on the construction of a Self-Defense Forces base on the island. In contrast, Itokazu, Takenishi and Sakihara all claimed that isolated islands near national borders such as Yonaguni need to host a Ground Self-Defense Force coastal monitoring unit to the minimum extent necessary. They opposed the bill, saying, “The referendum could uproot the foundation of representative parliamentary democracy.”

The conference proposed a bill to directly seek the opinion of local residents on the matter of the deployment of Self-Defense Forces to the island, collecting 544 signatures in favor of the bill. It allowed residents older than junior high school age to vote, and asked for fair and neutral information to be provided by the municipal government in an explanatory meeting for local residents.

Yonaguni Town Mayor Shukichi Hokama supported the referendum as a way of dealing with the opposition views, saying, “Conflict among residents may actually generate the energy needed to help activate the island. I hope that agreement between both parties could help revitalize the island in the future.” Because of legal issues, Hokama requested that careful consideration be given to assigning votes to junior high school students and foreigners with permanent residence status.

Hokama supports the deployment of Self-Defense Forces to Yonaguni because he thinks it could bring advantages to the island such as curbing population decline, activating the island’s economy and helping in the event of a natural disaster.

After the bill was voted down by the assembly, Shoukichi Sakihara, the chairman of the conference said, “This is a tyranny of the majority. We need to vote down the assembly members who opposed the bill.” After the assembly meeting, Hokama said, “Both parties need to take a deep breath and engage in discussions. I want them to resolve the conflict.”

(English translation by T&CT, Mark Ealey)

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