Osaka city workers face politicking ban

Hashimoto eyes ordinance to crack down on campaign action

Kyodo

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto indicated Wednesday he will seek a local ordinance to curb political activities by municipal employees and include penalties for violators of up to two years in prison — similar to that for central government workers.

A municipal official claimed it would be the first ordinance with penalties targeting local government employees, and the move could cause a major stir for restricting the freedom of political activities guaranteed by the Constitution.

Following consultations with the internal affairs ministry and other central government authorities, Hashimoto is aiming to propose the ordinance during a session of the Osaka Prefectural Assembly in July.

His proposed ordinance includes banning the issuance and distribution of newsletters by political organizations, marches and protests with political intent, and expressions of political views at assemblies using loudspeakers.

Offenders, even those who campaign for candidates for election, could face penalties of two years’ imprisonment and fines of ¥1 million.

Political activities by central government employees are restricted under provisions of the National Public Service Law and regulations of the National Personnel Authority. Employees in violation of the rules face up to three years’ imprisonment or a fine of up to ¥1 million.

The Local Public Service Law has provisions on restricting political activities of local government employees, but they do not carry any penalties.

“There is no reason to distinguish between central and local government employees. It is a legal inadequacy,” Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka, referring to the current lack of penalties.

But not all are in agreement with the mayor.

“Public servants are obliged to concentrate on their duties during their work hours but their right to freedom of political activities guaranteed under the Constitution shouldn’t be subject to restrictions outside their work hours,” said Hiroshi Kamiwaki, a professor and constitutional expert at Kobe Gakuin University.

Noriaki Kojima, a labor law professor at Osaka University, said: “Local public servants have been subject to lenient provisions when central government employees are governed by strict penalty provisions on election campaigning. . . . But there may be a problem with providing for penalties under an ordinance single-handedly.”

Meanwhile, an official at the internal affairs ministry said, “It could concern basic human rights and we would like to give consideration after listening to what the city of Osaka has to say in detail.”

Hashimoto took up the issue after some municipal office workers campaigned for former Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu in last November’s mayoral election, whom he ousted.

“If a mayor, the municipal office and labor unions work together to generate political movements, then this will prevent young people from challenging the political establishment,” Hashimoto has said.