Photo/IllutrationOpponents to the land reclamation work off the Henoko district of Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, applaud while watching a TV report on the referendum in Naha on Feb. 24. (Masaru Komiyaji)

  • Photo/Illustraion

NAHA--Okinawa Governor Denny Tamaki proclaimed that the decisive 72 percent opposed to the relocation of a U.S. military base within Okinawa Prefecture in a referendum on Feb. 24 shows the "firm will" of the people.

Tamaki told reporters before dawn on Feb. 25 that the people of Okinawa will never allow the land reclamation work off Henoko for the relocation of U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

“The central government should reconsider its policy that Henoko is the only candidate site for relocation, and suspend the (ongoing land reclamation) work,” Tamaki said. “We will also strongly demand that the central government start dialogue with the Okinawa prefectural government toward the closure of the Futenma air station and return of its land (to Japan)."

In the prefecture-wide referendum, a total of 434,273 voters, or 72.15 percent of the total ballots cast, expressed opposition to the relocation of the air station from the current location of Ginowan to the Henoko district of Nago.

Meanwhile, 114,933 voters, or 19.10 percent, supported the relocation, and 52,682 voters, or 8.75 percent, chose “No opinion either way” in the three-choice ballot.

The number of opposition votes exceeded those of the other two choices in all the 41 municipalities in the prefecture. The total is also larger than the record 396,632 votes won by Tamaki in the Okinawa gubernatorial election in September.

Voter turnout stood at 52.48 percent, exceeding the 50 percent level that is regarded as the lowest figure to consider the prefectural referendum results as meaningful.

The referendum was held only on the “one issue” of whether to support the land reclamation work off the Henoko district for the relocation within the prefecture, which is currently under way.

It marked the first time that the people in Okinawa Prefecture expressed their will of “no to Henoko” in their ballots that focused on one issue.

The referendum is not legally binding. However, with the number of opposition votes exceeding 288,398, or a quarter of the total number of eligible voters of 1,153,591 in the prefecture, the Okinawa governor is required to inform Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Donald Trump of the result of the referendum.

Buoyed by the voters' opposition, Tamaki will strongly urge the Abe administration to suspend the work for the relocation of the Futenma air station.

He plans to visit the prime minister’s office and the U.S. Embassy, both in Tokyo, on March 1 to convey the results of the referendum.

The Okinawa people have maintained strong opposition to the relocation of the Futenma base within the prefecture since the latter half of the 1990s when the relocation plan surfaced.

In the Okinawa gubernatorial elections in 2014 and 2018, Takeshi Onaga and Tamaki, respectively, both won on anti-base relocation platforms.

However, in other local elections, such as the Ginowan mayoral election in 2016 and the Nago mayoral election in 2018, candidates supported by the Abe administration emerged victorious.

Therefore, the Abe administration and the Liberal Democratic Party emphasized that opposition to the relocation to Henoko was not solely the will of all the people of Okinawa.

The referendum marked the first time in 23 years that a prefectural-wide referendum was held in Japan. In 1996, a referendum was held in Okinawa Prefecture on the reduction of U.S. military bases in the prefecture and the review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement.

Okinawa currently hosts about 70 percent of U.S. military facilities in Japan.