Okinawa: People again vote to remove US military from their islands

2014.12.04.Okinawa-Protesters-surround-OPG-build-RyukyuShimpoThe Japanese general election for members of the House of Representatives turned into a referendum in Okinawa on the post-WWII U.S. military occupation. Voters in the four ridings in Okinawa rallied around candidates firmly opposed to the construction of yet another U.S. military base on their islands.

The vast majority of Okinawans want the U.S. military occupation to end. Once again, the popular will was expressed in the December 14 election, as all four candidates opposed to the building of another U.S. military base were victorious. This culminates a long string of electoral victories in the last five years at all levels of government in Okinawa for those who want the U.S. military removed from their islands.

There are over 27,000 U.S. troops on Okinawa, as well as air and naval bases today. Since 1945, these islands have been used as U.S. staging grounds for war against the Korean and Vietnamese people and a key strategic base for President Obama’s “Pivot” military strategy.

The Japanese ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of Prime Minister Abe had poured enormous resources into his party’s election campaign in Okinawa to assure the victory of his four LDP candidates but to no avail. However, knowing a defeat was possible given recent history, Abe relied on the parallel party proportional representation (PR) vote in the Kyushu bloc to give his four defeated LDP Okinawa candidates PR seats in the House of Representatives. Many found his actions contemptuous, an affront to the Okinawa popular will and an exposure of the corrupt party-dominated electoral system.

For the party PR vote, Okinawa is lumped together in one voting bloc with the large island of Kyushu, a thousand kilometres across the Pacific to the northeast. Electors cast a vote in their particular first-past-the-post constituency and a party from a list of parties that have registered for the PR poll in one or all of the eleven designated blocs throughout Japan. The parties submit to the election commission a list of party officials or favoured personalities before the vote. The PR seats are distributed to the parties mainly according to the percentage of votes they receive in the bloc PR voting. The seats are then given to the party officials according to their position on the party lists.

Abe put the four defeated Okinawa LDP candidates high on his party’s Kyushu bloc list to assure them a seat in the House in case of defeat in the ridings. His chief secretary has already bluntly indicated that regardless of the people’s opposition in Okinawa, the ruling party in concert with the U.S. military is pushing ahead with the new base. Abe wants to present at least a facade of a voice from Okinawa in the House of Representatives when push comes to shove on the issue.

The Japanese ruling elite introduced the party PR system in 1996 to ensure the continued dictatorship of the ruling monopoly capitalist parties. The PR system has also given several small parties a few seats, which keeps them engaged in the discredited party-dominated electoral system and away from the struggle for democratic renewal. In total the House of Representatives is comprised of 295 first-past-the-post constituency seats and 180 seats given directly to the parties in the PR vote. The parties, which are largely financed by the state, select their own candidates for the first-pass-the-post constituency vote. For the PR ballot only party names appear; the voter does not vote for a candidate but for one of the parties on the bloc ballot. Voters do not know who the actual representatives for the bloc will be unless they look up the party lists beforehand and guess at which names have a chance to be given a seat.

The Kyushu bloc is allotted 21 party PR seats. The percentage of total votes the LDP received within the Kyushu bloc in this election meant it was awarded eight of the 21 seats. Four of those eight PR seats were handed to the defeated Okinawa LDP party candidates mainly because of their high placement on the LDP list. This in itself could be seen as a blow not only against the popular will in Okinawa, which showed its determination to oppose the U.S. military occupation by defeating all four pro-war LDP candidates but also against the people of Kyushu, as the population of Kyushu is ten times larger than the 1.4 million people in Okinawa. The defeated Okinawa candidates received fifty per cent of the allotted LDP PR seats but the fifty per cent is far larger than the percentage of the Okinawa LDP vote within the Kyushu bloc. The manipulation of the vote in this way further exposes the party-dominated electoral system Japan as a tool for continued dictatorship of the ruling imperialist parties, mainly the LDP, and their close allies in the mass media, and underscores the necessity for democratic renewal.

In another blow against the popular will, the outgoing Governor of Okinawa, who was soundly defeated in the recent gubernatorial election by a candidate opposed to the U.S. military occupation, approved two construction permits related to the building of the proposed new U.S. military base. This occurred on December 5, just four days before the Governor vacated his office. Outraged citizens immediately besieged the prefectural office in a demonstration to protest his arrogant anti-people actions.

It should be noted that across Japan in the general election on December 14, only 52 per cent of the 104 million registered voters cast votes. Of those votes, the ruling LDP received 48.1 per cent in the first-past-the-post voting and 33.11 per cent in the overall party PR vote. This is approximately 25 per cent and 17 per cent of the registered voters yet the LDP was given 291 out of the 475 total seats or 61.27 per cent. This result was classified in the monopoly-controlled media as a landslide LDP victory without comment on the crisis of the general non-participation or disengagement of the polity in the electoral process and the need for democratic renewal.

(With files from: NHK, Asahi Shimbun, Japan Press Weekly. Photo:Ryukyu Shimpo )

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