Photo/IllutrationA ballot is cast in the mayoral election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Feb. 4. (Kengo Hiyoshi)

NAGO, Okinawa Prefecture--Komeito’s involvement in the Feb. 4 Nago mayoral election and the incumbent’s reduced support from unaffiliated voters contributed largely to the victory of the ruling coalition-backed challenger, Taketoyo Toguchi.

The majority of voters in Nago actually agreed with the incumbent, Susumu Inamine, 72, in his opposition to the construction of a U.S. military airfield in the city’s Henoko district that will take over the functions of the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma in Ginowan, also in Okinawa Prefecture.

But that sentiment edged down from the previous election, further denting Inamine’s chances of securing a third term as Nago mayor.

Voters cast their ballots largely along party lines, according to Asahi Shimbun exit polls conducted at 12 voting stations on election day and during the early voting period.

Valid responses were received from 1,382 voters on Feb. 4 and 2,340 from the early voting period.

More than 80 percent of supporters of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party voted for Toguchi, 56, a former Nago assembly member, in both early voting and on election day.

Inamine, 72, collected votes from more than 90 percent of supporters of the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, the Japanese Communist Party or the Social Democratic Party.

The game-changer was Komeito, the LDP’s junior coalition partner, which did not endorse or support any candidate in the previous Nago mayoral election.

Komeito, backed by Japan’s largest lay-Buddhist group, is known for its organizational skills in elections, and the party did not hold back in the latest election.

Only 2 percent of voters in the previous Nago election were Komeito supporters. Their corresponding rates in the latest election jumped to 6 percent for early voting and to 4 percent on election day, the polls showed.

The exit polls also showed that Komeito supporters have turned away from Inamine.

In the previous election, 32 percent of Komeito supporters in early voting and 68 percent on election day cast their ballots for Inamine.

This time, however, 94 percent of the party’s supporters in early voting and 84 percent on election day picked Toguchi.

Unaffiliated voters have been considered the “most powerful voting force.” Inamine received votes from 75 percent of them in the previous election.

In the latest election, their support for Inamine fell to 58 percent in early voting and 63 percent on election day.

Exit polls on Feb. 4 asked voters if they support the plan to build the replacement U.S. military base in their city.

Fifty-nine percent of the voters opposed the plan, down from 68 percent in the previous election, while 32 percent favored the project, up from 27 percent.

Although Toguchi did not clearly state his stance on the Futenma relocation plan during the campaign, 86 percent of voters who support the project voted for the challenger.

Inamine received votes from 77 percent of those who oppose the plan. In the previous election, Inamine won 91 percent of those ballots.

A similar trend to move away from Inamine was also seen among those who cast their ballots in early voting.