Editorial: Ruling parties successful in prefectural assembly election, popular opposition to Henoko relocation made clear once again

June 6, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

The will of the people has been made clear once again. It is unacceptable for the Japanese government to continue to ignore and trample upon the Okinawan people’s will.

Okinawa’s twelfth prefectural assembly election drew nationwide attention, with people watching to see what would happen to the makeup of the prefectural assembly during Governor Onaga’s first term in office. The election resulted in a major landslide victory for candidates backed by Onaga’s prefectural administration. Furthermore, a large majority of the successful candidates expressed clear opposition to the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to Henoko, Nago, a plan the Abe administration is pushing forward forcefully.

Two years ago, candidates opposed to the Henoko relocation were successful in the election for the lower house of the national Diet, the Nago mayoral election, and the Nago city council election. As Japan is a democratic nation, there is no longer any grounds to justify the construction of a new base in Henoko. The central government should abandon the new base construction plan and renegotiate with the United States.

Unconvincing crime prevention measures

In the election, 71 candidates vied for 48 seats in the prefectural assembly. Excluding the two seats from the Nago City district, which were uncontested, fierce competition played out over the acquisition of seats in twelve electoral districts.

There are many and varied issues facing the prefectural administration, but the most hotly debated issue leading up to the election was that of U.S. bases. Amid a swell of fierce resentment after a civilian employee of the U.S. military was arrested for abandoning a woman’s body in the woods, nearly every candidate called for the revision of the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA). Only a tiny minority claimed to be satisfied with “improving the implementation” of the SOFA.

Immediately before voting started, the central government put forth new measures in light of the incident, but these merely constituted increasing the number of surveillance cameras and police officers patrolling the streets. These misguided measures, which might as well imply that increasing the number of cameras will deter U.S. military-related crimes, were utterly unconvincing. The central government should take seriously the fact that 96 percent of the candidates elected to the Okinawa prefectural assembly are demanding revision of the SOFA.

Regarding the U.S. bases in Okinawa as a whole, all of the candidates in the election demanded either their “large-scale reduction and consolidation,” their “complete withdrawal,” or their “reduction and consolidation.” Not a single candidate supported upholding the status quo. Regarding the U.S. Marines stationed in Okinawa, a large majority of candidates called for their “complete withdrawal” or “large-scale reduction,” with not a single candidate calling to uphold the status quo. Regarding the new Henoko base, nearly 70 percent of new assembly seats were filled by candidates who voiced clear opposition to the plan.

Regardless of political persuasion, a face-value consideration of the way candidates responded to pre-election surveys and their success in the election leads one to conclude that the message conveyed by the Okinawan people through the election was as follows: It is unacceptable to continue pushing U.S. bases onto Okinawa at the current scale. That the central government seeks not only to maintain the status quo in terms of the U.S. Marines but to even build a new Marine base in Okinawa is unacceptable.

At a press conference, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga repeatedly expressed his view that the results of the prefectural assembly election will have no impact on the new base construction at Henoko. No matter how much he may wish to forestall the implications of the election, there is a limit. His remarks are excessively insincere toward the will of the Okinawan people.

Hope for new policy proposals

Prefectural assembly members are required to grasp the diverse opinions and demands of the prefecture’s residents, and to integrate them into prefectural policy.

Okinawa faces many issues. One pressing issue is childhood poverty. Perhaps reflecting this awareness, significantly more candidates put forth policies to deal with this issue when compared to previous elections.

Parties aligned with the Onaga administration praised the measures it has taken, including investigating the details of the situation and creating a fund created to promote measures to deal with the problem. Meanwhile, opposition parties praised the central government’s Cabinet Office for appropriating funds to deal with the issue.

Along with the prefectural administration, the prefectural assembly is one half of a two-part system of representation. While it is fine to praise the administration’s policies, assembly members should also enact policies of their own.

Currently, the time period for the budget earmarked by the Cabinet Office remains unclear. Some municipal governments hesitate to act, concerned that they will be unable to bear the costs alone if central government funds dry up after a project is already underway. Projects to deal with childhood poverty must be incorporated into the administrative framework for the long term, not just discussed temporarily while the topic remains a hot-button issue. Hopefully the newly elected assembly members will exhibit such wisdom.

Okinawa also faces significant economic challenges. The average income of Okinawans remains only 70 percent of the national average, and 45 percent of workers are employed on an irregular basis. Okinawa needs concrete policy proposals that do more than just call for vague “promotion of the economy.”

In the last four years, the Okinawa prefectural assembly has enacted two bylaws based on proposals made by assembly members. This is quite a positive step, considering that during the previous 40 years only four bylaws were passed by the assembly. Hopefully the 48 newly elected representatives of the people of the prefecture will continue to propose and enact new policies.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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