• Kyodo

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Voters went to the polls Sunday to pick new members of the city assembly of Nago, the destination for a contentious U.S. military base further south in Okinawa Prefecture.

The outcome of the race, in which 35 candidates are vying for 27 seats, could sway the outcome of the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November.

Among the candidates for the Nago Municipal Assembly, 19 oppose the controversial base relocation plan and 16 support it. The results were expected to be released early Monday.

With a population of around 62,000, Nago is a key battle ground in the politics of Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of the U.S. military bases in Japan, the legacy of World War II.

Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine, who was re-elected in January, is a staunch opponent of the plan to build the replacement facility for U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma, which is situated in a densely populated part of the city of Ginowan, further south.

Late last month, work on a drilling survey began in the waters off Nago to prepare for a landfill project needed to create the site for the replacement base, including runways.

The government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is trying to press ahead with the controversial plan, first agreed on back in 1996, saying the current plan is “the only viable option.”

The results of the Nago Municipal Assembly election will be closely watched as Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima, who approved the landfill project last December, seeks another term on Nov. 16. During the campaign, Naha Mayor Takeshi Onaga, another contender for governor, stood behind the anti-relocation camp.

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