For voters in Okinawa Prefecture, the principal issue in the Oct. 22 Lower House election is the plan to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, located in the crowded city of Ginowan, to the Henoko district of Nago, also in the southernmost prefecture.

In all four electoral districts in the prefecture, candidates from the “All Okinawa” camp supporting Governor Takeshi Onaga, who has pledged to block the relocation plan, are pitted against candidates of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, who have expressed their willingness to accept the plan.

The Futenma issue was the focus of four recent elections in the island prefecture: the elections three years ago for Nago mayor, the prefectural governorship and the Lower House as well as the Upper House election last year. In all these elections, the “All Okinawa” camp carried the day.

Still, the Abe administration has been forging ahead with work to reclaim land off Henoko to build a new U.S. military base.

People in Okinawa are feeling deep frustration and indignation about how their will, repeatedly demonstrated in these elections, has been ignored. They are wondering what they should do to make their voices heard if their votes fail to change the situation.

There may be quite a few candidates and voters who think Okinawa has to swallow the burden for the sake of Japan’s national security policy. They would argue that special historical and geographical factors leave no other choice.

But whether a new U.S. base should be built in Okinawa is not the only question posed by the long-running Henoko dispute.

When the central government uses its enormous power to impose a heavy burden on a certain local government, how can and should the local government respond to the move and protect the lives, properties and environments of local residents?

At stake is a fundamental issue for local autonomy per se.

The Abe administration, for example, is proceeding with a plan to destroy coral reefs to build an airstrip on reclaimed land off Henoko without obtaining permission from the prefectural governor.

The central government says there is no need to obtain such permission because the local fishermen’s cooperative has voted to abandon its fishing rights for the area.

But the Fisheries Agency previously said such a vote alone will not cause fishing rights to lapse.

The prefectural government has repeatedly asked the central government when it changed its position on the issue and for what reason and through what procedure. But no sincere reply has been given. This is tantamount to total disregard for administrative continuity, stability and credibility.

There are other outrageous episodes concerning the relocation plan.

In July, the Defense Ministry discovered 14 colonies of endangered corals in areas where reclamation is planned. But the ministry only notified the prefectural government of the discovery in September after 13 of the 14 colonies had died.

Surprised by the notification, the prefectural government issued administrative guidance to suspend the work to discuss measures to protect the corals. But the guidance was ignored.

This is how the administration has dealt with the environmental preservation request emphatically made by Onaga’s predecessor, Hirokazu Nakaima, as a condition for his approval of the land reclamation.

A broad array of public works projects are under way across the nation.

The central government plans to accelerate the selection of the location of the final disposal site for nuclear waste in the coming months.

The government may say such projects will never move forward if it listens to the voices of local governments concerned and that prefectures and municipalities involved have to bear burdens for national policy efforts. It could simply opt to apply the approach used in Okinawa to other projects as well.

What can and should local governments do when the administration does take such actions?

The deplorable state of politics highlighted by the Henoko dispute should be a key issue in the Lower House election.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Oct. 19