TOKYO (Reuters) - A mayor opposed to a U.S. Marines base on Okinawa seeks re-election in a poll on Sunday, raising the prospect that the facility will remain an irritant in Japan-U.S. relations.
Japan's central government and Okinawa authorities have long bickered over a plan, first agreed between Tokyo and Washington in 1996, to relocate the U.S. Marines' Futenma air base from an urban area in central Okinawa to the less populated Henoko district of the northern city of Nago.
Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine and Okinawa Governor Takeshi Onaga are among the opponents of the move, seeking to have Futenma's functions moved off Okinawa entirely. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's government wants to forge ahead with the relocation.
Many Okinawa residents associate the U.S. military presence with crime, pollution and accidents, and resentment has been rekindled by a spate of incidents involving U.S. military aircraft. In December, a window fell from a U.S. helicopter onto a school sports field, fanning safety concerns.
Inamine, who is seeking a third four-year term with opposition support, was leading challenger Taketoyo Toguchi, backed by Abe's Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its junior coalition partner, the Komeito party, a Yomiuri newspaper survey published on Jan. 30 showed.
A win for Toguchi would make it easier for Abe's government to carry through the relocation. A former local assembly member, Toguchi has pledged to improve the city's economy.
Work is underway for construction of a Futenma replacement facility, but some aspects require approval from the Nago mayor, so the re-election of Inamine could bring delays.
Polls close at 8:00 p.m. (11:00 GMT) and media exit polls are expected afterwards. Final official results may not be available until early on Monday.
(Reporting by Linda Sieg; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)