/

Mayor resigns to force issue on Osaka integration referendum

Hashimoto calls snap poll

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto formally announced Monday he is resigning but said he will stand again in an election that could take place by mid- to late March to gain the support of voters for holding a referendum on whether to integrate Osaka.

The decision to step down came after a local committee set up by the prefecture and the city to discuss merging Osaka into one political entity voted last week against amalgamating four plans to reorganize the city into smaller semi-autonomous wards into one proposal, the first step toward gaining the municipal assembly’s approval and then holding a local referendum.

“The snap election is not about whether or not you oppose the Osaka integration plan. It’s about gaining the trust of the voters by presenting a detailed explanation of the Osaka integration plan that can be voted on in a citywide referendum. It’s about asking them whether they want to go forward with discussions on the details so they can decide in a referendum,” Hashimoto told reporters in Osaka.

Hashimoto and his local group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), aimed to achieve integration by April 2015. But numerous political setbacks, including the loss by an Osaka Ishin candidate in last year’s Sakai mayoral election, and increased opposition to his moves by New Komeito, which forms a majority in the municipal and prefectural assemblies with Osaka Ishin, have made the goal all but impossible.

A detailed explanation of the plan, which he wants to use as the basis for a referendum, will be finished by this summer. Before that, Hashimoto will run for re-election, saying it’s the only way voters can pressure political opposition in the assembly to bring one plan forward for a referendum, at least on the timetable Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui promised when they won their seats in November 2011.

Hashimoto would not offer a date for the election. After he submits his resignation to the head of the municipal assembly, it could take place within 50 days.