Voting under way in Nago mayoral race with U.S. base relocation in focus

Voting got under way in the Nago mayoral election in the southern Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa on Sunday, with a candidate opposing the relocation of a U.S. military base to the city's coastal area pitted against an incumbent supported by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's ruling party that is pushing for the transfer.
The race between incumbent Taketoyo Toguchi and his challenger Yohei Kishimoto, supported by opposition parties and Okinawa Gov Denny Tamaki, is closely watched ahead of a gubernatorial election later this year in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in Japan.
Campaigning for the race was marred by surging COVID-19 cases in Okinawa, which has been placed under a quasi-state of emergency. Tamaki has linked the spike in cases to U.S. military facilities that first saw clusters of infections. He opposes the transfer of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within the prefecture.
Kishida, who took office in October, has taken the same stance as his predecessors that the relocation is the "only solution" to removing the dangers posed by the Futenma base, currently located in a densely populated area in Ginowan.
Tensions between the national and Okinawa governments remain high as Tamaki rejected in November the Defense Ministry's plan to make necessary changes to landfill work needed for the base transfer following the discovery of weak ground that needs to be reinforced.
Backed by Kishida's Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, Toguchi, 60, has said he will "closely follow" developments between the central and Okinawa governments without clarifying his stance on whether he supports the base transfer.
Kishimoto, 49, has expressed support for Tamaki and aims to block the base construction. He has received support from the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party, among others.
The relocation dates back to a 1996 Japan-U.S. agreement on returning the land occupied by the Futenma base. Sunday's mayoral race is the seventh since then.

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