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Campaigning kicked off Sunday for the Jan. 19 mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, with the incumbent, who opposes the hosting of a new U.S. military airport, facing a challenge from a pro-base candidate.
Susumu Inamine, the 68-year-old incumbent seeking a second four-year term, is recommended by the Japanese Communist Party, the People's Life Party and the Social Democratic Party, while Bunshin Suematsu, the 65-year-old former Okinawa prefectural assembly member, is recommended by the Liberal Democratic Party.
The outcome is expected to affect the Japan-U.S. plan to relocate the U.S. Marine Corps' Futenma Air Station from a crowded residential area in Ginowan to a coastal area in less densely populated Nago, both in Okinawa, after Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima approved last month landfill work to build a relocation facility.
The election result is also likely to decide the fate of Nakaima after the prefectural assembly recently adopted a resolution urging the governor to quit for reneging on his election pledge to have the U.S. base moved outside the prefecture.
"I will not allow the construction of the base either on land or the sea in the Henoko area," Inamine said.
In 1996, Tokyo and Washington agreed on the return of the land for the Futenma base within five to seven years in a bid to reduce the burden on Okinawa. In 2006, the two countries agreed on a deal to build a replacement facility for Futenma by reclaiming land in Nago's Henoko area.
Suematsu said, "I want to settle the issue by cooperating with Gov. Nakaima and the central government."
The ballots will be counted immediately after voting. Nago had 46,665 eligible voters as of Saturday.
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