Nago Citizens Do Not Approve New Base
A mayoral election for Nago City, Okinawa Prefecture，took place on February 3, 2002. The result showed that MIYAGI Yasuhiro, who put up a good fight getting the people's great expectation of scrapping the government's plan to build a new military base, lost to his opponent KISHIMOTO Tateo, the incumbent, by 9,208 votes, allowing the pro-base mayor to be re-elected.
The election result, however, does not mean that the Nago citizens have chosen to accept the construction of the military airport planned on an atoll off the city's Henoko district.
During the campaign, Kishimoto never referred to the election's most important issue concerning the construction of the new military base. He even refused to attend an open forum or a joint interview with the other candidates. "If I fail in this election, all projects to develop our communities will be stopped. A person who opposes the central government can never take money from it," said Kishimoto and thus took advantage of the uneasiness of the citizens who had been suffering from severe recession. Moreover, the absentee votes reached 7,703, covering 19% of the electorate. The unprecedented large number shows that rigid control was imposed on the voters by the local business and community circles.
Miyagi advocated policies of improving the communities without depending on the military base. But before his proposals became known among the local people, the voters were pressed to choose between 'anti-military base' and 'community development (equivalent to jobs).'
An unemployed man said, "I don't want a military base. But I just want an administration that keeps advancing local economy." What the Nago citizens asked for was betterment of their living. They have not changed their opinion from disapproval to approval for the construction of the military base. The voter turnout of 78%, marking the record low in the city's history, symbolizes that the election was literally 'a choice of distress' for the voters.
Alternatives For Community Development Hammered Out
In the course of the election campaign, Miyagi and his supporting circles have got a precious asset, that is, they hammered out alternatives to the community development policy linked up to the military base. While public works introduced by Kishimoto are of an environmental destruction type, Miyagi has proposed those of a nature restoration type completely independent of the military base.
The unemployment rate in Okinawa marked the worst ever 9.4% last September. The rate exceeds 10% in Nago city, where there are only a few manufacturers of considerable size with employment highly dependent on the construction industry. That is why 'anti-military base' tends to be looked upon as something that makes a denial of public works, and 'environmental protection' as something that deprives the people of jobs.
The policy Miyagi proposed is called 'public works of Nago-Yambaru type' (Yambaru is a subtropical forest stretching over the city and the northern part of Okinawa island, and is very rich in rare wild life). It is based on an idea that abolishing military bases, and preserving and making wise use of natural surroundings will help the real development of communities and their economy. As there was only one month until the voting day after Miyagi had announced his candidacy, it was difficult to spread his counterproposal among the whole electorate. Nevertheless, he found that his proposal drew good response even from the local construction companies.
In the United States these days, works like changing military bases into civil areas or dismantling dams to restore environment are paying as business, and this stream is spreading worldwide. It is epoch-making that such a policy was proposed in a mayoral election, and the fact has shown great prospects for anti-base movement and ecology movement.
'Dugong-no-sato zukuri,' a project to make home to the dugongs, has just begun. The way toward the realization of Miyagi's alternatives is being paved. When the idea of this policy is materialized by building up concrete examples, 'anti-military base' and 'community development' will become one thing.
New Military Base Never To Be Made
"Now that Kishimoto won the election by a large margin, we are ready for relocating the US Marine Corps Futenma Air Station to the new site in Nago," said Minister of State in charge of Okinawa Affairs OMI Koji. The government is in a hurry to decide on a basic plan for the military base. However, not a single hurdle to the construction of the new base has been cleared. Just after the ballots were counted, Mayor Kishimoto and Okinawa Gov. INAMINE Keiichi mentioned over again the 'seven conditions for accepting the relocation.' The more concrete the construction plan becomes, the more problems such as serious impact on natural environment or negotiation on military use agreement with the US will erupt one after another and the more closely the construction plan itself will come to a deadlock. One of the Defense Agency officials had to say, "I'm afraid things won't go so easily," as quoted in The Okinawa Times daily, February 4, 2002.
In solidarity at home and abroad, let us continue to work on activities to make the community a better place where the dugongs are conserved and the natural surroundings are protected. That will strengthen the power to block the construction of the new military base. (February 4, 2002)