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The Okinawa Referendum - 8th September 1996


As most people are no doubt aware, an historic referendum (though non-binding on the central Japanese Government) was held on Okinawa on 8th September, 1996. Voters were asked to vote either for, or against, the consolidation of U.S. military bases in the prefecture and a review of SOFA (the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement). Out of an eligible 909,832 voters, 482,538 cast their ballots in favour of the proposition, 46,232 against, with 12,856 invalid ballots. 368,206 eligible voters abstained from voting in the referendum. An analysis of the statistics show that 53% of eligible voters were in favour, 5% were against, 1.4% of voters cast invalid ballots, and just over 40% abstained. Of those who voted (541,626), more than 89% cast in favour of the proposition.

For Okinawa Governor Ota this was an important test of public opinion. Having been defeated on the military base land lease issue in the courts he was asking the local population to effectively decide for him as to whether he should continue fighting the central government. He must have been extremely disappointed with the results. 53% may have voted for the resolution, but this still left 47% in the negative camp. After more than a year of high profile anti-base protests in Okinawa just over half the population of Okinawa was in agreement with him. A two-thirds majority was what he had been looking for to continue fighting. In the face of these results he shortly afterwards agreed to work with the government in obtaining the consent of the recalcitrant landowners. It was, he said, the most agonising decision he had had to make thus far in his time as Governor. Perhaps the most humiliating too.

The complete breakdown of voting by "Shi, Cho, Son" (City, Town and Village) was as follows:


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