Photo/IllutrationJinshiro Motoyama, center, holds a news conference in Naha on Sept. 5 after his group organized a petition drive calling for a referendum on the relocation of a U.S. military base to the Henoko area of Nago in Okinawa Prefecture. (Ryuichi Yamashita)

A petition with more than 90,000 signatures was submitted to the acting Okinawa governor on Sept. 5 to request a prefectural referendum on building a U.S. military base in the Henoko district of Nago.

A citizens group that organized the petition drive asked Deputy Governor Kiichiro Jahana to submit an ordinance to the Okinawa prefectural assembly to bring about the referendum on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in the prefecture to the planned new facility in Nago.

Jahana, who has been serving as acting governor since the Aug. 8 death of Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga, is expected to convene an extraordinary session of the prefectural assembly within 20 days.

The group collected 92,848 signatures, or about four times the required one-50th of eligible voters in the prefecture. Municipal election administration committees screened and confirmed the validity of the signatures.

“We strongly call on the central government to suspend land reclamation work at Henoko at least until the prefectural referendum is held,” group leader Jinshiro Motoyama said after the petition was submitted.

The ordinance for the referendum is expected to be adopted because the prefectural assembly is controlled by parties aligned with Onaga, who vehemently opposed the relocation plan.

The referendum must be held within six months after adoption of the ordinance. But it could be held as early as December.

However, the ordinance does not have any penalty provisions, meaning the governor at the time it takes effect could simply ignore it and not hold a referendum.

The Okinawa gubernatorial election is slated for Sept. 30 and is expected to pit a candidate backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and junior coalition partner Komeito against a candidate named by Onaga to be his successor.