• Kyodo

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Official campaigning kicked off Sunday for the Nago assembly election next week, with interest focused on whether candidates supporting Mayor Susumu Inamine, a staunch opponent of hosting a contentious U.S. air base, can win a majority.

The local election board accepted 37 candidates — including 18 pro-Inamine candidates and 17 critical of the mayor — for the 27 seats up for grabs in the city of 60,000.

While all 18 of the pro-Inamine candidates say they are against hosting the replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps’ Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in Okinawa, many of the 17 candidates who oppose the mayor are noncommittal about the thorny issue.

However, most of the 17 have a good relationship with former Mayor Yoshikazu Shimabukuro, who was willing to accept the air base. He was beaten by Inamine in the mayoral election in January.

The Nago assembly was evenly balanced between pro- and anti-Inamine members at 12 each. The remaining three members are neutral.

In May, Tokyo and Washington agreed to relocate the Futenma air base from a densely populated area in Ginowan to the less populated Henoko coastal district in Nago.

The results of the election are expected to affect the government’s negotiations with Washington, since many of the details, such as the design of the replacement facility, have not been finalized.

The government of Prime Minister Naoto Kan isn’t likely to make a final decision on the matter until after the Okinawa gubernatorial election slated for November, sources familiar with the matter said earlier.

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