Majority rejects US base move in Okinawa referendum: exit polls

Okinawa residents go to the polls Sunday in a closely watched referendum on the controversial relocation of a US military base to a remote part of the island. (AFP)
Updated 24 February 2019
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Majority rejects US base move in Okinawa referendum: exit polls

  • Polls opened early on Sunday morning, with about 1.15 million Okinawans eligible to vote
  • Japan’s military alliance with the United States is seen as a key partnership

OKINAWA, Japan: Voters have rejected a controversial US base move in Japan’s Okinawa, exit polls showed after a non-binding referendum on Sunday, local media said.

It was not immediately clear by what margin voters had cast ballots opposing the relocation of the Futenma base from a densely-populated area to a more remote coastal region elsewhere on the southern Japanese island.

But local media including public broadcaster NHK and the Kyodo news agency said a majority of voters were in opposition to the move, which is backed by the Japanese and US governments.

Turnout in the referendum was also not immediately clear, with official figures not expected for several hours after polls closed at 8:00 P.M. local time (1100GMT).

Okinawa’s governor is required to “respect” the vote’s outcome if at least a quarter of eligible voters — around 290,000 votes — vote for any one option.

The referendum was initially planned as a yes-no vote on the relocation plan, but a “neither” option was added after some regions opposed to the relocation threatened to boycott the poll.

Okinawa accounts for less than one percent of Japan’s total land area, but hosts more than half of the approximately 47,000 American military personnel stationed in Japan.

Residents opposed to the relocation want to see the base moved elsewhere in Japan, arguing that the responsibility for hosting US troops should be spread more evenly across the country.


Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

Updated 25 May 2019
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Pakistan bracing for austere budget under IMF, finance chief says

ISLAMABAD: Pakistan is preparing a belt-tightening budget to tame its fiscal deficit, the de facto finance minister said on Saturday, adding that both civilian and military rulers agreed austerity measures were needed to stabilise the economy.
But Hafeez Shaikh, Prime Minister Imran Khan's top finance adviser, declined to say whether the military's hefty budget would be cut following last week's agreement in principle with the International Monetary Fund for a $6 billion loan.
The IMF has said the primary budget deficit should be trimmed by the equivalent of $5 billion, but previous civilian rulers have rarely dared to trim defence spending for fear of stoking tensions with the military.
Unlike some other civilian leaders in Pakistan's fragile democracy, Khan appears to have good relations with the country's powerful generals.
More than half of state spending currently goes on the military and debt-servicing costs, however, limiting the government's options for reducing expenditure.
"The budget that is coming will have austerity, that means that the government's expenditures will be put at a minimum level," Shaikh told a news conference in the capital Islamabad on Saturday, a few weeks before the budget for the 2019/20 fiscal year ending in June is due to be presented.
"We are all standing together in it whether civilians or our military," said Shaikh, a former finance minister appointed by Khan as part of a wider shake-up of his economic team in the last two months.
In the days since last week's agreement with the IMF, the rupee currency dropped 5% against the dollar and has lost a third of its value in the past year.
Under the IMF's terms, the government is expected to let the rupee fall to help correct an unsustainable current account deficit and cut its debt while trying to expand the tax base in a country where only 1% of people file returns.
Shaikh has been told by the IMF that the primary budget deficit -- excluding interest payments -- should be cut to 0.6% of GDP, implying a $5 billion reduction from the current projection for a deficit of 2.2% of GDP.
The next fiscal year's revenue collection target will be 5.55 trillion rupees ($36.88 billion), Shaikh told the news conference, highlighting the need for tough steps to broaden the tax base.