Photo/IllutrationVotes are counted after the Nago municipal assembly election in Nago, Okinawa Prefecture, on Sept. 9. (Hiroki Ito)

NAGO, Okinawa Prefecture--Call it a draw as seats on the 26-member municipal assembly were evenly divided between a bloc accepting the construction of a new U.S. military base here and another opposing it in the election on Sept. 9.

Jockeying for power will likely heat up as 13 assembly members were elected from the bloc supporting the base project, which is backed by Nago Mayor Taketoyo Toguchi, who was elected earlier this year. Another 13 were supported by forces opposing it.

The base project is under way in the Henoko district of Nago to relocate U.S. Marine Corps Air Station in Futenma in Ginowan, also in the prefecture.

The outcome of the poll, along with four other local assembly elections in the southernmost prefecture the same day, was closely watched by the central and prefectural governments as a prelude to the high-profile gubernatorial race on Sept. 30.

Two key contenders running for governor--Atsushi Sakima, a former Ginowan mayor, and Denny Tamaki, a Lower House member of the Diet from the Liberal Party--stumped in Nago in support of candidates from their blocs running in the Nago municipal assembly election.

Sakima has the backing of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which is pushing the U.S. base project, and its junior coalition partner, Komeito. Tamaki is endorsed by supporters and members of the “All Okinawa” movement, which calls for the closure of the Futenma facility and is opposed to the relocation of the base within Okinawa Prefecture.

Toguchi, who defeated the incumbent in opposition to the Henoko project, began implementing programs providing free school lunch and free child care in September. The programs were financed by funding given by the central government on the premise that the city will cooperate with the base project.

Candidates from Toguchi’s league campaigned on policy measures supporting the livelihoods of residents.

Those in the opposition camp urged voters to pass down the will of the late Governor Takeshi Onaga, who spearheaded the opposition to the Henoko project until his death last month due to cancer.

Voter turnout was a record-low 65.04 percent, down 5.36 percent from the previous municipal assembly election in 2014.