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Hashimoto may face only a JCP candidate in election

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto may run against only a Japanese Communist Party candidate in the snap election he forced by announcing his resignation Monday, while tensions between his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) group and its coalition partner, New Komeito, escalate over the future of his Osaka integration plan.

Neither the local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party nor the Democratic Party of Japan, which are part of the opposition camp in the municipal assembly, plan to field candidates in the snap election now likely to take place in late March. The JCP was in final discussions Tuesday evening, and was leaning towards fielding a candidate.

In any case, the election carries political risks for Hashimoto and his group. The cost of holding the election could reach ¥600 million, which has many in Osaka Ishin worried about a voter backlash against the party for wasting money. They’re also concerned that if turnout is lower than expected, it will end up strengthening the hand of integration opponents, including the JCP.

New Komeito, whose support Osaka Ishin needs in the municipal and prefectural assemblies to form a majority, will not put up a candidate either. Even so, relations between the two parties have worsened over Hashimoto’s charge that New Komeito broke its promise to back an Osaka Ishin-led plan for eliminating the two-tiered bureaucratic structure of the city and prefecture.

Hashimoto’s plan would also lead to rezoning political districts for local politicians and Diet members, and is opposed by established political parties, while New Komeito, which has a very strong presence in Osaka, has always been cautious.

“We’re not going to agree to an Osaka integration plan just because it’s called that. We need to see the details, and will decide after they’re made clear,” New Komeito Lower House member Shigeki Sato, who is from the city of Osaka and heads the prefectural chapter, said last month.

Hashimoto is particularly angry with New Komeito because, he says, the party agreed to a timetable that calls for a single integration plan to be decided by early summer, and for a referendum to be held around October.

Sato, however, said no agreement with Osaka Ishin had been reached to take the issue all the way to a referendum.

Various polls by Osaka Ishin show most voters like the idea of a single Osaka entity. But most say Hashimoto’s concept is too vague.