From WEEKLY MDS No.929, March 24, 2006 issue logo

Iwakuni Referendum Says "No" to Military Base Enhancement / Will of Residents to Create Peace

87% of voters poll against the relocation

On March 12, in the city of Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture, Japan's first local referendum took place on the issue of the transformation and realignment of US forces deployed in Japan. The turnout was 58.68%. Votes rejecting the plan amounted to 43,433 while votes accepting it stood at 5,369. The ratio of anti-relocation votes was 87% out of the total number of effective votes. That means that an overwhelming majority of all eligible voters decisively rejected the planned base enhancement. This vote marked a historic referendum in which residents executed the right to live in peace. Joint Chairperson OKAWA Kiyoshi of the United Citizens for Referendum says, "Our struggle is now entering the most critical stage. In order to have the reckless relocation plan called off, we will continue our movement in solidarity with residents in Atsugi and Okinawa."

It is an obligation of both the Japanese and US governments to honor the will of residents and withdraw the relocation plan to transfer US carrier-based aircraft to Iwakuni.

The success of the Iwakuni referendum has tremendous significance. Among other things, it should be noted that Iwakuni citizens executed the right of autonomy in the form of a local referendum to effectively blow up the government's pet theory that "defense should be under exclusive control of the state." Furthermore, they succeeded in using the referendum to represent residents' overwhelming rejection, which encouraged all local entities and residents involved in the military base issue in Japan.

While observing, "The relocation to Iwakuni must be carried out at all costs," Defense Agency Director-General NUKAGA Fukushiro is showing his fear that this incident may affect planning for the nationwide base realignment, saying, "I will try to gain understanding and cooperation (of local residents)."

Blocking Japan-US military integration

At the end of last October, the Japanese and US governments agreed on the "U.S.-Japan Alliance: Transformation and Realignment for the Future" (interim report on realignment planning of US forces in Japan), which aims to promote US-Japan military integration with aggressive intent. The plan to transfer the Carrier Air Wing unit to Iwakuni Air Station is part of the scheme. Fighters and helicopter units are taking off from Iwakuni to join the Iraq War and Japan's SDF (Self-Defense Force) troops are currently delivering troops and materials for the US. While rushing toward the establishment of a US-Japan joint military operation system, it is critically important for the Japanese government to establish final agreement on the realignment of US forces deployed in Japan by the end of March.

The Iwakuni referendum has demonstrated power to block such an agreement and to interfere with the moves toward the realignment and enhancement of US forces in Japan.

Local entities and residents concerned continue to reject plans for the realignment and enhancement of US bases in Japan. The city of Nago, Okinawa, where citizens rejected a planned base relocation in 1997 with a local referendum, has not permitted the commencement of new base construction even now, nine years after the referendum. Meanwhile, citizens' protest rallies have spread around the country, including the March 5 all-Okinawa rally attended by 35,000 participants protesting another relocation scheme for a new coastal base, the February 26 protest attended by 8,200 participants in the city of Kanoya, Kagoshima, and the March 11 meeting attended by 1,900 people in the city of Zama, Kanagawa. Clearly, the attempt of Japan-US military integration is creating "sweeping local uprisings" not only in Okinawa.

Results of local referendums by all eligible voters can even scrap a "state policy." The will of residents can never be totally ignored. It is possible to block the realignment and enhancement of US military bases in Japan.

Stopping war with power of autonomy

Local governments'/residents' movements for withdrawal of base enhancement plans or base removal have the same significance as the Non-Defended Localities directed at the removal of bases and military forces; both of them are aimed at creating peace zones.

Campaigns for Non-Defended Locality ordinances have made it clear in respective local assembly sessions that "enactment of an ordinance belongs to the right of autonomy, and each local entity can declare itself as non-defended." It is also a due task of a local entity and its residents to demand the state government execute the First Protocol to the Geneva Conventions Article 58 that forbids deployment of military bases in the vicinity of residential areas and to ensure that the provision is actually implemented.

Now that military base enhancement and drives to build up a war-oriented system are accelerated, let us mobilize local efforts to achieve cancellation of the US base realignment and enhancement plan, and spread the Non-Defended Localities movement further around the country. Let us demolish the war machine by executing residents' power of autonomy. (March 13)

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