OSAKA – Toru Hashimoto began his term as Osaka mayor Monday with a promise to radically reform the municipal bureaucracy and then took off for Tokyo to meet senior Diet members and long-time supporters like Tokyo Gov. Shintaro Ishihara.
Sounding both like a local politician concerned only about local matters and a future candidate for higher office, Hashimoto told reporters that national change begins in Osaka.
“We have a system in the city and prefecture of Osaka where the lines of responsibility and authority are unclear. Unless this changes, Japan will sink,” he said.
Hashimoto then repeated a pledge made during the campaign that if he didn’t get central government support for merging the city and prefecture, he and his local political group, Osaka Ishin no kai (One Osaka), would field candidates in the next House of Representatives election.
“I’ve never been a Diet member. But if the Diet doesn’t listen to our demands for reform, we’ll put up our own candidates,” Hashimoto said.
Yet if the mayor and Osaka Ishin no kai fielded candidates for national office, it probably wouldn’t be due to a lack of support in Nagata-cho, at least if Hashimoto remains popular.
He won the mayor’s seat last month by about 750,000 votes and with a strong mandate to merge the city of Osaka with the prefecture. Fellow Osaka Ishin no kai member Ichiro Matsui replaced him as governor, and the group now controls the prefectural assembly and is the largest bloc in the municipal assembly.
In addition, after remaining neutral or backing ex-Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu in the election, the municipal assembly chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito have said they would back Hashimoto’s initiatives.
In a move that surprised municipal assembly members and caused grumbling in the bureaucracy, Hashimoto traveled to Tokyo Monday afternoon for two days of meetings to push his Osaka integration plan and build alliances at the national level.
He planned to meet senior Diet members from the ruling Democratic Party of Japan, including chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura and shadow shogun Ichiro Ozawa. He met DPJ policy research chairman Seiji Maehara Tuesday night.
Hashimoto was also scheduled to meet with LDP leaders Sadakazu Tanigaki and Nobuteru Ishihara. He will also sit down with Ishihara’s father, the Tokyo governor, who campaigned on Hashimoto’s behalf. The governor, in turn, will meet Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) leader Shizuka Kamei Tuesday for discussions about a new political party, one aim of which is to tie up with Hashimoto in the next Lower House election.
However, the death of North Korean leader Kim Jung Il cast doubt on whether meetings with ruling party officials in particular would take place. The announcement of Kim’s death came just before Hashimoto left for Tokyo.
The mayor and his group have had numerous clashes with the pro-Pyongyang group Chosen Soren, especially over history education and Japan’s colonial past. Hashimoto refused to comment on Kim’s death or what affect it would have on Osaka’s Korean community, one of the largest in the country, leaving comment to Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda and the Foreign Ministry.
Chosen Soren Osaka officials refused comment on either Kim’s death or their relationship with Hashimoto.
When he returns to Osaka, Hashimoto will start holding meetings with city bureaucrats on a number of issues, ranging from a 20 percent pay cut for municipal employees to privatizing the city’s subway system and merging the municipal and prefectural waterworks divisions.
The mayor also eventually wants to rearrange Osaka’s 24 wards into eight or nine districts with elected leaders who have many of the powers the Osaka mayor currently enjoys.