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Osaka merger drags on Hashimoto’s return to Nagatacho

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto may be moving forward with plans to once again become a notable player in Nagatacho by tying up with Yui no To (Unity Party).

But back in Osaka, he, and his local political group Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), the largest party, find themselves unable to make headway on the very reason for Hashimoto’s political existence: the integration of the Osaka municipal and prefectural governments.

Last month, angry at the way Hashimoto was attempting to override opposition in both the city and prefectural assemblies, where the opposition parties hold the majority, both legislative bodies passed resolutions that effectively declare Hashimoto’s merger proposal null and void. Without the assemblies’ cooperation, putting the merger plan to a public referendum is impossible.

The staunch opposition of the other parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito, Osaka Ishin’s nominal coalition ally, creates a bind for the pro-merger camp, especially the younger legislators in Osaka Ishin who entered politics because of Hashimoto and rode his coattails to victory.

Lacking deep connections, a popular base of support, name power and, most importantly, big war chests, many of Hashimoto’s young municipal and prefectural assembly members face tough re-election bids next spring unless a referendum on the merger — or a clear schedule for one — can be set by then.

One of the fundamental problems for the local opposition parties, especially the LDP and New Komeito, is that a merger is certain to redraw electoral districts, creating uncertainty locally and in the Diet. Meanwhile, opinion polls are split, with some saying a slight majority of the public favors the merger and others showing most Osakans are uncertain how the plan will affect their lives.

Hashimoto, in other words, heads into autumn faced with the monumental task of convincing voters, and the opposition, to agree to his plan even as he makes attempts to return to the national stage.