Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Yoshiko Sakurai

【#287】Outrageous Yonaguni Referendum

Yoshiko Sakurai / 2015.02.26 (Thu)

February 23, 2015

     On February 22, a referendum took place on the planned deployment of a Ground Self-Defense Force unit on Okinawa Prefecture's Yonaguni Island, the westernmost Japanese islet. In the referendum where voter turnout came to as high as 85.2%, 632 people voted for hosting the SDF unit on the border island and 445 against the plan. SDF deployment supporters won the referendum by a greater-than-expected margin of 187 votes.
     SDF deployment supporters say they should take advantage of their overwhelming victory to confidently go ahead with relevant construction for the deployment. But the problem cannot be solved at such level. The Yonaguni referendum was an event that should not have taken place in a normal country. A security policy on which the central and relevant local governments have agreed was put a referendum where junior high school students and older minors and five permanent resident aliens were given voting rights in addition to ordinary voters. This is nothing more than unusual for a country.

Junior high school students and foreigners given voting rights
     I do not necessarily support the present Constitution. Nevertheless, I believe that government should be based on compliance with the Constitution and law. The Yonaguni referendum came as the challenge to the spirit of the Constitution and law.
     Giving foreign residents voting rights for a referendum runs counter to the spirit of Article 15 of the Constitution that says, “the (Japanese) people have the inalienable right" to choose their public officials. It also contradicts the spirit of Article 93 basing local autonomy on "direct popular vote" as the Supreme Court has judged "direct popular vote" participants as Japanese nationals excluding permanent resident aliens.
     Given that national security amounts to the public welfare, the referendum also conflicts with the spirit of Article 13 providing that the people's right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness shall be the supreme consideration to the extent that it does not interfere with the public welfare. The central government has the absolute right to national security in the first place.
     It was outrageous that voting rights were given to 56 young people aged below 20, including 41 junior high school students, at the unreasonable request of opponents to the SDF deployment plan.

Central government has exclusive right to national security
     The SDF deployment plan for Yonaguni originated from a request by Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama. As the plan made headway following approval by the local assembly, the mayor demanded 1 billion yen in fee for “inconvenience” involving the plan. He has talked little about national defense or security.
     As a matter of course, national security and energy policies should be understood by the people before being implemented. But I naturally doubt the advisability of leaving local communities to decide whether to implement such important policies.
     A relatively large number of local assemblies have enacted basic local ordinances, which differ from community to community but commonly position themselves as supreme regulations that local government heads should observe. In addition, they almost commonly give foreign residents local referendum voting rights, or local suffrage.
     Such ordinances threatening to undermine the state infrastructure are penetrating into local communities in Japan. Now, Japan is required to enhance the leadership of the central government in every sense. Politicians are responsible for clarifying this point to voters.
Yoshiko Sakurai is President, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals.