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Okinawa Elections: Keeping Democracy at Bay

SNA (Naha) — The people of Okinawa vote unmistakably to end the plan to build a new US Marine airbase at Henoko beach with the election of Governor Takeshi Onaga. Signs are few, however, that the governments in Tokyo or Washington are prepared to listen.


Narrator: Once again we have come back to this place—Henoko beach. The Japanese and American governments continue to insist that the new US Marine airbase will be built, and that the people who live here have no choice but to accept it. Democracy in Okinawa continues to be disregarded, or treated like an unwanted nuisance, rather than the fundamental basis of government which must be respected and obeyed.

The construction trucks are now protected by a small army of security guards daily, running through the lines of the protesters who have gathered outside Camp Schwab. In this month’s gubernatorial elections, the protesters all said that they trusted and supported Takeshi Onaga.

Protester 1: Yes, I believe him. The things he has said and written have never wavered. This is what all of the people around him can confirm. He gave up a high office for this new challenge. I think he is truly an excellent man.

Protester 2: Now, I believe him. Okinawa’s economy must not be founded on military bases, but rather our rich natural environment. Culture, tradition, and the arts will move the economy forward. We must not build any more bases. I think he’s believed that for a long time.

Narrator: There were four candidates in the gubernatorial race, and among them musician Shokichi Kina also made opposition to Henoko base construction his main theme. In Kina’s case, however, the candidate seemed to have more in the way of good intentions than a convincing, pragmatic policy program.

Shokichi Kina: Desertification and global warming. This is not just a problem for Henoko in Okinawa—it’s a problem for the whole world, right? All over the world there are wars, like in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, Palestine, Gaza, Jordan, and Egypt. They’re all just fighting war after war. I want to send a message from Okinawa to end the world wars.

Narrator: A conservative gubernatorial candidate, Mikio Shimoji, tried to run away from the Henoko issue by saying he would hold a popular referendum on the matter, and then respect its outcome. The Abe government’s preferred candidate was incumbent governor, Hirokazu Nakaima, who had been reelected in 2010 on a platform of opposing base construction—but then betrayed his public promise at the end of last year and permitted the construction to go forward. The people of Okinawa were now given their democratic chance about Nakaima’s betrayal.

Polls suggested that the momentum was behind former Naha city mayor, Takeshi Onaga, who campaigned day and night on his platform of restoring dignity to the people of Okinawa. It was a message that resounded well.

Takeshi Onaga: I have become a candidate in the gubernatorial election with the people’s All-Okinawa power behind me. I want to smash down the high US-Japan wall that surrounds the policy on military bases.

Narrator: Onaga received support from across the ideological spectrum, both conservatives and liberals. Lawmaker, Denny Tamaki, explained the reason.

Denny Tamaki: I think that the people of Okinawa are just saying “No!” to both the continued victimization from military bases, as well as the political pressure we are subject to.

Narrator: In a highly unusual move, even the Japan Communist Party lent support to Onaga’s campaign, as explained by lawmaker Seiken Akamine.

Seiken Akamine: We are the Communist Party and Mr. Onaga is from the LDP. We have different views of the US-Japan security treaty, but we both firmly oppose construction of the Henoko base—so on that point we can work together.

Narrator: When the election came it was, of course, a landslide victory for Takeshi Onaga. As they had already done many times before, the people of Okinawa made clear their rejection of the plan to build another US base on their island. They also made apparent their determination to assert their identity, not just as Japanese, but as Okinawans.

The protesters still gather at Camp Schwab, wondering when the day will come where their national government and the American government will finally begin to hear the peoples’ voices, no matter which language they speak.

Protesters: We shall overcome, we shall overcome someday. Oh, in my heart, I do believe, we shall overcome someday.

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