Maverick pair claim mandate to unify city, prefecture

Hashimoto, Matsui win twin Osaka polls

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Populist reform trounced the status quo in Osaka Sunday evening as former governor and Osaka Ishin no kai leader Toru Hashimoto, 42, won the mayoral election and Ichiro Matsui, 47, a senior leader in the same party and Hashimoto’s hand-picked successor, clinched the governor’s seat.

The historic double election — the first same-day contest for Osaka’s governor and mayor in 40 years — dealt a major blow to the local chapters of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan as well as the conservative Liberal Democratic Party, which backed incumbent Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu, 63, and gubernatorial candidate Kaoru Kurata, also 63.

Turnout for the mayoral election was quite high at 60.92 percent, more than 17 points higher than the 43.6 percent turnout in the 2007 election.

But turnout for the governor’s race stood at 41.26 as of 7 p.m., and was expected to match the roughly 48 percent turnout for the 2008 election.

At a joint press conference Sunday evening, Matsui and Hashimoto said the real work had just begun, but noted that their unified message and clear goal of achieving one singular Osaka appealed to the majority of voters.

“From the beginning, when we formed Osaka Ishin no kai last year, our message has been one of concern for all of Osaka, the city and the prefecture, and our policies have taken that into account,” said Matsui.

“We’re at the starting line. The next step has begun. Our party has had one policy. But politics means dealing with a variety of opinions and values. What everyone (who supported us) had in common was a desire to realize the goal of one Osaka political entity,” Hashimoto said.

However, both candidates admitted that more explanations of what unification will mean for local democracy under Osaka Ishin no kai’s merger plans are still necessary.

Opposition within the city bureaucracy to Hashimoto is expected to be particularly strong.

The mayoral contest was marked by emotional rhetoric and personal attacks from both candidates, generating fears in both camps that the harsh words could lead to something worse.

Security throughout the mayoral campaign was unusually heavy, with dozens of uniformed and plainclothes police officers guarding both candidates.

By electing both Hashimoto and Matsui, voters sent a strong message of support for the effort to merge the prefecture with the city.

Indeed, an NHK survey Sunday evening said that 62 percent of the public backs Hashimoto’s plans to create a unified Osaka.

But the impact of the double election on national politics is less clear. The national headquarters of the DPJ and the LDP did little campaigning for the losing candidates, while the small opposition group Your Party and its leader, Yoshimi Watanabe, campaigned for Hashimoto.

On the other hand, Hashimoto enjoyed the support of local politicians like Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara, Aichi Gov. Hideaki Omura and Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura, both of whom won elections earlier this year against candidates backed by the established parties.

The victories by Osaka Ishin no kai Sunday are expected to encourage independent, reformist candidates in other prefectures to take on the established parties. Hashimoto has offered to support candidates who share Osaka Ishin no kai’s fundamental local reform goals.

Matsui’s victory keeps the governorship in the hands of Osaka Ishin no kai, which also holds a majority in the prefectural assembly.