Editorial: Iha wins Upper House election, giving new weight to base opposition

July 11, 2016 Ryukyu Shimpo

Okinawa will not be daunted by the hardline stance of the Abe administration. The election results are a sign of the indomitable resolve of the Okinawan people with a steady eye on the future.

Yoichi Iha, the non-party affiliated former mayor of Ginowan City, was newly elected to the Upper House of the Japanese Diet representing the Okinawa electoral district. He won an overwhelming victory on a platform opposing the construction of a new base in Henoko, Nago City as part of the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

The “All-Okinawa” faction now holds a total of six seats in the Diet: two seats representing Okinawa in the Upper House (one of which was not up for election this time), and four seats representing Okinawa in the Lower House.

Opposition to the new base construction has taken on new weight. It is inadmissible for the Abe administration to ignore the will of the people and push forward forcefully with the new base construction.

In a vote, a vow

Iha defeated his opponent, Minister of State for Okinawa Affairs Aiko Shimajiri, who was aiming for a third term in office, by a wide margin of nearly 110,000 votes. This is proof that the popular will rejecting the construction of a new base in Henoko is unwavering. It is highly significant that Okinawans have once again declared to the Japanese government that they wish to realize self-determination, with Okinawa deciding its own path.

In the wake of a rape and murder by a U.S. military contractor that occurred as a result of the presence of the U.S. bases, the results of the election also reflect a vow on the part of Okinawans that we must put an end to the harm caused by the bases.

In his campaign, Iha expressed opposition to the new base construction, saying that the construction of a new base in Henoko will not result in a reduction of burden on Okinawa. By relocating the base to Henoko, “Okinawa will remain an island of bases forever,” Iha said. His words penetrate the true nature of the unreasonable way in which the bases are foisted on Okinawa, and the number of votes he received is evidence of the widespread resonance of his message among the people.

Building a new base will only continue to force an excessive burden on Okinawa alone, and will do no more than shift the dangers to a new location. The results of the election once more force the Abe administration to face the fact that this view is the consensus in Okinawa.

Shimajiri claimed that she would work as hard as she could and in a practical way to deal with the Futenma issue without eliminating any options. However, the Abe administration eliminates every other option and insists on the Henoko relocation. Shimajiri also declared that the fundamental issue of the Futenma problem is the elimination of danger and the reduction of the base burden on Okinawa. However, given how long it will take to build the new baes, the government’s plan will leave the dangers of Futenma in place for at least ten more years. It is no wonder that this stance did not win the support of Okinawans.
By revoking the campaign pledge she made to voters in the Upper House election six years ago to work to have Futenma relocated outside of Okinawa, Shimajiri became a spokesperson for the Abe administration. What Okinawans want is a spokesperson who represents their will. The presence or absence of this realization had a significant effect on the election results.

The Abe administration must not avert its eyes from the fact that the Henoko base construction plan has been rejected by Okinawans. It must also realize that the major defeat of a sitting Minister of State constitutes a strong protest against the fact that the government is unable to come up with effective measures to prevent incidents caused by U.S. military personnel and civilian workers.

Going back to fundamentals

Candidates rejecting the new base construction were victorious in all of Okinawa’s recent elections in which the Futenma relocation issue was a main point of contention—in 2014, the January Nago mayoral election, the November gubernatorial election, and the December Lower House election.

In the Ginowan mayoral election in January of this year, the incumbent mayor, who was supported by the Abe administration, was victorious. However, during his campaign he did not clearly state either support for or opposition to the Henoko relocation plan. His win did not represent a choice by the city’s electorate in favor of the new base construction. In the prefectural assembly election in June of this year, Governor Onaga’s ruling party won a resounding victory.

It is clear from the fact that the “All-Okinawa” faction now holds all the seats representing Okinawa in both houses of the Diet that there is absolutely no chance of Okinawans accepting the new base construction.

Nonetheless, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has declared his intention to continue promoting the Henoko relocation despite Iha’s election. Forcefully pushing forward with the new base construction is nothing but a destruction of democracy. Validity is on Okinawa’s side. It is only just that the opinion of those who will be most disadvantaged should be respected.

Based on the results of numerous elections, Governor Takeshi Onaga referred to Iha’s victory as a “final settling of accounts” in terms of the expression of the will of Okinawans. Hopefully, this will have been the last election in which the new base construction is a point of contention.

It is not difficult. Okinawans have rejected the Henoko base construction on the grounds that it will not contribute to a reduction of burden, and if the Abe administration would give up on the plan, the problem would be over. Going back to the fundamentals of democracy, that is the natural turn of events.

(English translation by T&CT and Sandi Aritza)

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