Action Group Chairman on US Base: Okinawans Have Right to File Direct Referendum

© AFP 2023 / TORU YAMANAKAUS helicopters and planes parked at Futenma US Marine Base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture (File)
US helicopters and planes parked at Futenma US Marine Base in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture (File) - Sputnik International
Sputnik spoke to the Chairman of a non-governmental organization advocating for a referendum on the construction of an American military base in Henoko. Jinshiro Motoyama, born in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture in 1991, is pursuing a master’s degree at Hitotsubashi University.

On September 30, Atsushi Sakima, a candidate actively supported by the Abe government, during the gubernatorial elections of the Okinawa prefecture was defeated by Denny Tamaki, who is in favour of bringing Henoko base out of the prefecture. I am very upset that, despite this outcome of the elections, the construction of the embankment in Henoko still began on 14 December. Such actions cast doubt on the principles of democracy in Japan. I think it has become absolutely clear that the Abe government completely ignores the voices of the Okinawa people, Motoyama says.

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Sputnik: The attitude towards holding a referendum in Okinawa on the construction of the Henoko US military base varies widely. For example, the parliaments of the cities of Ginowan and Miyakojima adopted a resolution against holding a referendum. How do you assess their actions, given that you are in favour of taking this action?

Jinshiro Motoyama: Okinawans have the right to file a direct claim. Signatures were collected, and the prefectural parliament passed a bill to hold a referendum on the relocation of a US military base within the island. Each resident of Okinawa has the right to one vote. I fear that local parliamentarians' actions will deprive citizens of this right. After the adoption of the draft law, we expected to focus on campaigning activities: creating videos and conducting training sessions on the upcoming referendum.

A child looks at the U.S. Marine Corps Futenma Air Station and the surrounding area from an observation deck at a park in Ginowan, Okinawa Prefecture on southern Japan. - Sputnik International
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We did not expect any opposition from these city parliaments, which refused to allocate funds from the local budget to hold a referendum, and we very much regret that this happened. I believe that priority should be given to direct democracy, that is, the direct demand of citizens, and not the decision taken by a group of people elected to be representatives. For example, it is impossible to amend the Constitution without holding a general referendum, even the consent of all members of the Japanese Parliament to amend the Constitution will not be enough. It is imperative to ask for people's opinion.

This also applies to the referendum on Okinawa. I am convinced that, according to the Constitution, an advantage should be given to the general desire of residents to hold a popular referendum on a specific issue, rather than the opinion of a group of deputies elected to the local parliament. When individual parliamentarians refuse to hold a popular referendum and disavow all duties associated with it, a paradoxical situation is created: instead of their direct duty to protect the rights of citizens, they do not heed their voices and ignore the will of the people. I think this casts doubt on the very meaning of their existence.

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Sputnik: There will be about two months from the time when construction of the embankment for the new American military aerodrome begins until the referendum. What steps do you plan on taking during this period?

Jinshiro Motoyama: Local parliamentary meetings will be held until next week so we will continue to closely monitor the adoption of budgets. We are planning meetings with those members of parliament and with those mayors who refuse to allocate funds for the referendum. In addition to creating and distributing brochures, from the beginning of the year, we plan to conduct training sessions and workshops, during which we will campaign for participation in the referendum.

The views expressed in this article are those of the speaker and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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