Photo/IllutrationAn aerial photo of land reclamation work in progress on the coast of the U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab in the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Jan. 13 (Jun Kaneko)

NAHA--With five municipalities choosing to sit out a prefecture-wide referendum over a U.S. military base, the Okinawa prefectural assembly is considering offering a multiple-choice ballot to persuade them to join.

Yonekichi Shinzato, speaker of the prefectural assembly, on Jan. 19 announced a compromise plan for the Feb. 24 referendum on the relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture, to the Henoko district of Nago, in the same prefecture.

The proposal involves changing the current yes or no response on the ballot to offering more choices to voters.

However, a major stumbling block is that only a month remains until the vote.

“As the prefectural assembly, we have to make sure that all municipalities can participate,” said Shinzato, after meeting with members of the ruling parties of the prefectural assembly in Naha. “We have to hurry along the discussions.”

In response to citizens’ demand, the assembly approved the referendum in October, and Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki announced the date in November.

But mayors of five municipalities--Okinawa city, Uruma, Ginowan, Miyakojima and Ishigaki--have opted out of the referendum. Some have stated that the ballot measure, which will ask if voters support moving the Futenma base to Henoko, should allow them to choose from more responses.

Some assembly members, including those belonging to the ruling parties, have talked about adding responses on the ballot such as “I don’t know” and “There is no choice.”

Shinzato avoided offering more detail on the plan, but he told reporters after the meeting that he will lead negotiations to convince mayors of these five municipalities to change their minds.

Shinzato also said that he called Jinshiro Motoyama, a representative of a citizens’ group called “Henoko Kenmin Tohyo no Kai,” which gathered more than 92,000 signatures calling for a referendum.

Shinzato told him, “I will lead the assembly to work on options including an alternative to the yes-or-no question.”

Motoyama, who ended a five-day hunger strike calling for the participation of all municipalities in the referendum on Jan. 19, expressed support for the speaker's objective, according to Shinzato.

However, prospects of holding a prefecture-wide referendum remain dim as time is short.

Changing a ballot question on the referendum requires a revision of the prefectural ordinance.

According to Shinzato, in order to complete the process in time for the Feb. 24 referendum, the deadline to call the assembly to revise the ordinance is Jan. 29. That means all factions of the assembly have to work out their differences no later than Jan. 25.

Such a daunting prospect faces serious resistance even from assembly members of the ruling parties.

“There’s no way to revise the ordinance. It’s too late,” some members said.

Even if the ordinance was revised, there is no guarantee that the five municipalities will change their stances and participate in the referendum.

“It is difficult (to respond in time),” said a doubtful Sachio Kuwae, mayor of Okinawa city.

Masanori Matsugawa, mayor of Ginowan, expressed caution, saying, “It would be good if they could reach an agreement, but, if not, it would invite more chaos.”