Shape of Osaka takes center stage in election

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

The long awaited Osaka mayoral race, which takes place Nov. 27, kicked off Sunday with former Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto, 42, pitted against the incumbent, Kunio Hiramatsu, 63.

The election is expected to have the highest voter turnout in decades and, for the first time in 40 years, will take place the same day as the governor’s election. Both races have major implications for Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda, the Democratic Party of Japan and the main established parties, as well as the future political structure of the Osaka region.

There is only one issue, which is whether or not to merge the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture into a political entity similar to that of Tokyo.

Hashimoto strongly supports a merger while Hiramatsu strongly opposes it.

“Osaka City Hall and the prefectural government will be broken up. We’ll start from the beginning again and build a new city hall. This is the final battle with the powers that are trying to protect the structure and organization of Osaka, and of Japan,” Hashimoto said Sunday.

“Hashimoto’s Osaka plan is a one-way bus ticket to an unknown location with unfamiliar stops along the way. We have to stop it,” Hiramatsu told his supporters the same day.

The race is being closely watched by the rest of the Kansai region and the established parties in Tokyo, and is seen as a possible harbinger of how the DPJ in particular will do in the next Upper House election.

Hiramatsu is supported by the prefectural chapters of the DPJ and the Liberal Democratic Party. The Japanese Communist Party withdrew its candidate and called on supporters to cast their ballots for Hiramatsu.

Hashimoto is backed by his local political group, Osaka Ishin no kai (One Osaka) and has the support of the center-right Your Party. Other independent politicians, including Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura and Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura, will also be campaigning on Hashimoto’s behalf.

Yet despite their prefectural chapter’s support of the anti-Hashimoto candidates in both the mayoral and gubernatorial elections, the national chapters of the DPJ and LDP are more divided on Hashimoto.

For the past year, Hashimoto, who resigned as governor last month three months early to run in the election, has attacked the city bureaucracy and Hiramatsu personally over their opposition to his merger proposal, which has long been the goal of many in the Kansai corporate world.