The Japanese Communist Party scored historic gains in December’s parliamentary elections, and most strikingly in Okinawa. That was no accident. Okinawans have waged a decades-long struggle against the outsize presence of U.S. military bases. It ratcheted up last year over U.S. moves, backed by conservative Japanese politicians, to build a massive new base on Okinawa’s environmentally sensitive Henoko Bay.
The Asahi Shimbun (Morning Sun Newspaper), one of Japan’s leading daily papers, headlined its report this way: “LDP [the ruling conservative Liberal Democratic Party] suffers crushing defeat in Okinawa, a blow to base relocation”. It went on to say:
“Opposition candidates won in all of Okinawa’s four single-seat constituencies in the Dec. 14 Lower House election, a sign of growing frustration among voters over the planned relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.
Seiken Akamine, 66, of the Japanese Communist Party, was one of the winning candidates, along with three other opponents of the base from a variety of political parties.
Japan has a complicated voting system for its House of Representatives that combines proportional representation, which is widely seen as more democratic, and single-seat constituencies, which give the ruling party an advantage. But this time, the Communist Party said, it had “more than doubled its seats” in the House, from eight to 21. Of the 21 successful candidates, 20 were elected from proportional representation blocs, obtaining 6.06 million votes (11.37% of total votes cast), and Akamine was elected from the single-seat Okinawa No. 1 district. The Asahi Shimbun noted that this was “the first seat the Japanese Communist Party has won in a single-seat constituency since 1996,” and the party itself called the results “the first major victory of the JCP in general elections since 1996.”
Last fall, Okinawans registered their opposition to the mammoth U.S. base at Henoko by elected an anti-base governor, Takeshi Onaga. Okinawa’s biggest newspaper, Ryuku Shimpo, reported that Akamine, the Communist candidate, “received the support from the bipartisan forces that promoted Onaga to the post of governor. With the help of Governor Onaga, the candidate for the communist party gained a wide-range of support from other opposition parties and independents. He succeeded in gaining the votes of conservative and centrist parties.”
Earlier, in January last year, voters in Okinawa’s Nago City, which includes the site of the new U.S. base, solidly re-elected its anti-base mayor, Inamine Susumu, a career public administrator who is not affiliated with any political party. While on a trip to the U.S. last May to make his case to Americans to stop the base construction, Susumu said in an interview that the new base “is pushed strongly by the [Japanese] government against the wishes of the people.” He commented that “Okinawans are not only controlled by U.S. military forces, they are also unfairly treated by the Japanese government. People strongly feel that Okinawa is being colonized by Japan.”
The Japanese Communist Party made “a base-free Okinawa” and opposition to conservative Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s re-militarization drive centerpieces of its election campaign, together with countering pro-big-business “Abenomics” and opposing nuclear energy in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima disaster.
The conservative LDP was able to retain control of the House and claimed the election represented a mandate for Abe’s policies. The Communist Party disputed this, pointing out that Abe’s LDP lost seats in the House and got only 33 percent of the vote. However, the prime minister is pressing ahead with his pro-military, anti-social-welfare austerity program.
This week, Abe’s Cabinet approved a record $814 billion budget that, according to a Council on Foreign Relations newsletter, “increases defense spending to an all-time high of $42 billion, including purchases of U.S.-made stealth fighters, as Japan seeks a larger role in regional security.” Meanwhile it cuts social spending and raises the regressive “consumption tax.”
Photo: Kazuo Shii, head of the Japanese Communist Party, waves during the last day of campaigning for parliamentary elections in Tokyo, Dec. 13, 2014. | Eugene Hoshiko/AP