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U.S. rejects any Futenma renegotiations

Date Posted: 2009-09-04

Newly elected legislators in Japan’s Lower House of Representatives campaigned in opposition to a continued presence of the Futenma Marine Corps Air Station or any northern Okinawa replacement, but in the aftermath of Sunday’s elections, the U.S. has quickly rejected any plans to renegotiate the deals.

All five Okinawa politicians elected Sunday are opposed to agreements made between the U.S. and Japan regarding the Futenma deal, which is linked to moving 8,000 U.S. Marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam by 2014. Their victories in the 45th House of Representatives election were part of a crushing defeat of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan and allied parties.

Mikio Shimoji swept to victory in Okinawa’s First Election District, promising to “work hard for medical and nursing services, protecting pension money for everyone, curbing electrical rate increases and blocking privatization of the postal service”. The 48-year-old Shimoji, a member of the People’s New Party, also wants American military units removed from Okinawa. The Second Election District winner, 64-year-old Kantoku Teruya, vows to “fight for the Futenma Air Station transfer, and I will tell the Governments of Japan and America to close it right now.” Teruya, a Democratic Socialist Party member who picked up nearly 102,000 votes, also wants the SOFA revised.

Denny Tamaki, the 49-year-old Democratic Party of Japan candidate who won 89,266 votes to win the Third Election District seat, promises to “discuss with America taking the air station outside of Okinawa, or outside of Japan.” Tamaki says he “feels the differences in quality of life here in Okinawa City” and wants to be part of change. Chobin Zukeran, who won the Fourth Election District seat also representing the DPJ, says “today is my starting line to work for Okianwa City citizens, giving people the dream of hope for people.” The 50-year-old promises to “fight to make these things true.

Communist Party candidate Seiken Akamine won the proportional district seat, also promising the press for Futenma’s transfer outside of Okinawa or Japan.

The U.S. State Department waited less than a day to announce “The United States has no intention to renegotiate the Futenma replacement facility plan or Guam relocation with the government of Japan.” State Department spokesman Ian Kelly made the announcement in Washington, rebuffing reports the Democratic Party of Japan would press for changes to the 2006 Japan-U.S. agreement that calls for moving Futenma to northern Okinawa as part of a deal that would relocate 8,000 Marines and their families to Guam to reduce the burden on Okinawa communities.

The five Okinawa politicians say they’ll press their point clearly to the U.S. not to “make the new base outside Henoko.” They say “we will discuss this with the U.S. and ask it to take American bases outside of Okinawa or overseas, not inside Japan.” Kantoku Teruya, the Socialist Party winner of one seat, promises “I will try to freeze the budget for execution of the environmental assessment of Henoko. All construction should stop.”

The opposition’s massive victory over the Liberal Democratic Party puts Okinawa’s governor in an awkward position. An LDP member, Hirokazu Nakaima must work with hardcore opponents of the American military reorganization. Nakaima himself isn’t a great fan of the Futenma relocation, but has suggested he’d agree to it if the proposed runways would be relocated a bit further into Oura Bay to enhance safety of local communities. “I would like to listen to what the Japanese government is now going to say and do, and then think about it,” says Nakaima. “I know the five successful Okinawa candidates say ‘Outside of Okinawa is the best move,’ but I’d like to be sure of what the DPJ’s Yukio Hatoyama is thinking.”
Nakaima questions whether the DPJ can stop the environmental assessment, continue the work at Henoko, or withdraw everything about Futnema. “What is the Democratic Party of Japan going to do?” he asks. “I would like to know, and then I can speak.

The downfall of the LDP, which managed to garner only a few more than 100 of the 480 House of Representatives seats, while the opposition DJP picked up 308, promises to shake up upcoming local elections. Nago City citizens go to the polls in January to elect a mayor, while Okinawa City’s mayoral election is in April. Next summer will be the House of Councilors election, followed by the November 2010 election for Okinawa’s governor.

Okinawans wanted to make sure their voices were heard in last Sunday’s elections. The turnout at the polls was up 2.6% from the previous election, with 64.95% of Okinawa’s eligible voters casting ballots.

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