Direct Democracy in Japan? Yes, indeed. It happened in 1996, but the roots of it were planted when the United States imposed a modern constitution upon the Japanese people after World War II. Local governments in Japan, however, despite having the power of referendum, rarely (if ever) used it. Instead, the Japanese people and their representatives in cities and towns throughout their nation, have deferred to the power of the major centralized government and its national industrial partners on just about everything. Up to now.
So, what finally spurred some Japanese to use the
"stealth weapon" of direct democracy known as the referendum? The overwhelming
desire to keep nuclear power plants out of their backyard + the knowledge that if they
left it up to the central government, there was no doubt they would have enormous nuclear
power plants cluttering up their traditional landscapes and changing, forever, their way
Fortunately, an election was coming up and someone ran against the mayor on this issue-- and promised that he would hold a referendum on the issue if he were elected. Thus, he won...and kept his promise.
This brought a wave of visitors from the big city who tried to ply the local townsfolk with many goodies if they would only see (and vote for) their radioactive solution. For example, the nuclear family even paid for short excursions to other places in Japan where people were ecstatic over their nuclear generators.
But, according to the New York Times, it didn't work. That's right, 61% of the
voters in Maki said "no." And several other referenda are being held on this
issue in other venues and another on the issue of the placement of an industrial waste
However, he was aided in an educational process prior to the referendum on this issue by labor unions and civic groups. Even though this referendum process in Okinawa was non-binding, nearly 60 % of the citizens showed up to vote and slightly less than 90% of them favored a major reduction in the size of U.S. forces on Okinawa.
But as in the nuclear and toxic waste issues, Japanese citizens took a quantum leap into Direct Democracy and used it to send powerful messages to the rulers in Tokyo and Washington, D.C.
So what has been the result? Well, TAN+N does not have a Japanese correspondent (yet) and the American news media has not kept the American public up to date on any follow ups...on the nuclear and toxic waste issues.
However, there has been some negotiating going on concerning the American military presence in Okinawa...at the highest levels...and without the presence of any of those opposed to continued American occupation. The result of that is a very slow, phased pull- out of some American troops and the possibility of building an offshore military platform for American warplanes.
How will that sit with the Okinawans? Only time and perhaps a new referendum will