From WEEKLY MDS No.926, March 3, 2006 issue logo

Iwakuni Municipal Referendum Slated on March 12 / Execute Autonomy to Reject Military Base Enhancement

Relocation put to vote

Shall Iwakuni Air Station accept or reject the US carrier air wing from Atsugi Air Facility? The Mayor of Iwakuni has launched a proposal of a referendum, urging residents of the city to show their decision. Voting is scheduled on March 12.

Last June, the Iwakuni municipal assembly unanimously passed a resolution against the proposed relocation. Furthermore, 60,000 signatures against the plan were submitted to the national government, representing about a half of the city's population. In the face of those moves, however, the Japanese and US governments announced on October 29, 2005 an "Interim Report" concerning transformation and realignment of US forces in Japan, aiming to force Iwakuni city to accept the relocation of 57 carrier-based planes from the Carrier Air Wing stationed at Atsugi Air Facility along with night landing practices.

Thus, the campaign against the relocation plan for military enhancements was approaching a crucial point. At this very stage, some city assembly members turned to change their stance and expressed readiness to accept the relocation plan in exchange for local economy stimulus measures. The referendum was set under such circumstances.

This is the fist plebiscite of the country for voting on the US military transformation and realignment scheme. It will be valid if the voting rate exceeds 50%, meaning that the mayor and the assembly will be obliged to respect its outcome as much as possible.

Sharing prospect with Non-Defended Localities movement

The significance of the Iwakuni referendum is as follows.

First, it will be an opportunity to explicitly say "No!" to the planned US military transformation and realignment for enhanced US forces in Japan, helping form stronger oppositions that can impede the scheme.

An opinion poll by The Chugoku Shimbun conducted among residents of six municipalities around Iwakuni Air Station has found that the number of respondents against the planned relocation of some functions from Atsugi Air Facility has reached 75.9% (with 16.5% supporting it). Let it gain enough votes to be deemed as valid, and we will have an unquestionable result. It will naturally encourage antibase movements around the country including the one against a new base construction project in Nago, Okinawa.

Second, it is an initiative to ensure decision making by all for important issues and an execution of autonomy by local residents. The national government declares, "The result of the plebiscite will not affect the policy," adhering to the stance that "defense should be under exclusive control of the state." Effectively countering it, the referendum will be one stride forward toward the creation of peace zones under residents' initiative, just like direct petition campaigns for Non-Defended Locality ordinances now spreading around the country. That move will enhance forces against plots aimed at enactment of a new pro-war and anti-autonomy constitution driven by the Liberal Democratic Party.

Ensure successful referendum

In order to ruin the scheduled referendum, the national government is making various moves.

About 80% of the Iwakuni assembly members have requested the Mayor not to execute the referendum. The Defense Facilities Administration Agency has earmarked an additional budget for subsidies to facilitate US forces transformation, urging the city to accept the realignment of the base function by dangling a carrot of area development. They are also fanning an atmosphere of resignation among residents that voting would do nothing since the government is determined not to revoke the decision even if the opposition prevails.

After all, however, residents' determination is the decisive factor. No one can deny the result of a referendum. Residents of Nago have been effectively blocking construction of a new military facility since they expressed clear opposition to it in the 1997 referendum.

Enhance support and solidarity activities to ensure a successful referendum in Iwakuni.

First, let us support campaigns for winning the success of the referendum driven by residents of the city and neighboring west Hiroshima Prefecture. We can join local activities by residents and peace organizations including distribution of vote-encouraging flyers and a March 5 human letters action. We can also send donation.

Second, let us further spread the direct petition movement for Non-Defended Locality ordinances. We can resort to residents' power to create peace zones that guarantee the right to peaceful existence and protection of civilians as initiatives of local governments. This movement will be tantamount to great solidarity with the movement in Iwakuni and other localities against the transformation and realignment of US forces in Japan. (February 20)

Copyright Weekly MDS