Early results show NAHA Kyodo candidate wins Okinawa mayoral race

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Early results show NAHA Kyodo candidate wins Okinawa mayoral race

According to early returns, NAHA Kyodo incumbent Taketoyo Toguchi is poised to win a second term as Nago mayor in the southern Japanese prefecture of Okinawa on Sunday, a relief for Prime Minister Fumio Kishida who is pushing for the relocation of a U.S. military base to the city's coastal area.

Toguchi, 60, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party and its coalition partner Komeito, defeated anti-relocation candidate Yohei Kishimoto, giving a blow to local efforts to thwart base construction by the national government.

Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki had thrown his support behind Kishimoto, and the mayoral race was closely watched as a precursor to a gubernatorial election in the island prefecture later this year.

Okinawa hosts the bulk of U.S. military installations in the nation and anti-military sentiment runs deep. The prefecture is celebrating the 50th anniversary of its reversion to Japan after U.S. occupation.

The relocation of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma to a coastal area in Nago from its current densely populated location in Ginowan has met stiff opposition, even though the Japanese government has already begun landfill for the transfer.

The Defense Ministry plans to make necessary changes to the landfill work in November after the discovery of weak ground that needs to be reinforced is a source of tension between the national and Okinawa governments.

The campaign for the mayoral race was hampered by the surging COVID 19 cases in the prefecture, which has been under a quasi-state of emergency.

Toguchi said he will closely follow developments between the central and Okinawa governments, but he did not say anything about his position on whether he supports base transfer.

Kishimoto has expressed support for Tamaki and aims to block the base construction. He received support from the main opposition, the Japanese Communist Party and the main opposition, amongst others.

S. agreement on returning the land occupied by the Futenma base. Sunday's mayoral race was the seventh since.

Okinawa is increasingly seen as an important strategic asset due to its proximity to North Korea whose nuclear and missile development has kept Japan on alert, and the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China SeaChina Sea. It is close to the frontline of heightened cross-strait tensions between Taiwan and China.