Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), a regional political party promoting the plan to restructure the western Japan city of Osaka into a metropolis like Tokyo, won both the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections on April 7.
Ichiro Matsui and Hirofumi Yoshimura stepped down as governor and mayor, respectively, and called a double election to coincide with the first round of nationwide local elections and to seek re-election in each other’s positions. With their victories, Yoshimura is set to become Osaka governor and Matsui will assume the post of mayor.
They are poised to work on the metro Osaka plan to split the city of Osaka into special wards with publicly elected mayors and assemblies like Tokyo’s 23 wards. The plan is designed to reduce functional overlaps between the prefectural and municipal governments.
Osaka Ishin no Kai called the double election in a bid to break a deadlock over the plan after its negotiations over the matter with Komeito, a junior ruling coalition partner in the national government, broke down.
Matsui and Yoshimura’s strategy of seeking to switch their positions in order to gain full four-year terms was a point of contention during the campaigning. Under Public Offices Election Act provisions, if Matsui and Yoshimura had stepped down and won re-election in their original positions, they could only stay on until November and December, the ends of their original terms, respectively.
Putting aside their contrived efforts to serve the interests of their party, the election outcome should be viewed as local residents’ expression of certain levels of support for the metro Osaka plan. Residents’ strong backing for the regional party’s policies since it was founded by former Osaka Gov. and Mayor Toru Hashimoto, including its administrative and fiscal reforms, have been reconfirmed in the election.
The Liberal Democratic Party, the ruling party in national politics, and other major political parties effectively fielded joint candidates but failed to defeat Osaka Ishin-backed candidates, highlighting the LDP’s fragile support base in Osaka.
Following the election results, Matsui and Yoshimura will likely speed up their moves to hold a referendum on the metro Osaka plan. Still, the referendum proposal needs approval from the Osaka prefectural and municipal assemblies. A legal counsel comprising members of the prefectural and municipal assemblies and others will draw up a specific plan and the assemblies will vote on it.
The metropolis proposal was rejected in a 2015 local referendum when Hashimoto was serving as Osaka mayor. If Matsui and Yoshimura intend to ask local voters to make judgment on the plan again, it goes without saying that they should endeavor to build a consensus within the assemblies to improve the idea and convince local residents.
During the campaigns for the April 7 election, Matsui and Yoshimura stopped short of presenting any specific proposals on the metro Osaka plan. Since they have won four-year terms, they can secure a sufficient amount of time for discussions.
Those involved in discussions on the metro Osaka initiative have thus far criticized each other and failed to have calm policy debate.
Even though Matsui and Yoshimura won the double election it does not mean that their ends-justify-the-means method was supported by the people of Osaka. In democracy, a process of forming a consensus is important. It must be kept in mind that particularly in local autonomy, the head of the executive branch and the assembly are like two wheels of a bike.