Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto on Oct. 23 announced that he will step down as prefectural governor and will run in the Nov. 27 mayoral election of Osaka City. Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu will also run. Mr. Ichiro Matsui, secretary general of Osaka Ishin-no Kai (renewal association), a local party led by Mr. Hashimoto, will also run in the gubernatorial election the same day. The Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party are considering fielding Mayor Kaoru Kurata of Ikeda, Osaka Prefecture, as their joint candidate in the gubernatorial election. Mr. Hashimoto hopes to reorganize Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City into something like Tokyo. An Osaka Metropolitan Government would be set up and the current 24 wards in Osaka City would be transformed into eight or nine wards, which would have similar power and functions to Tokyo’s 23 wards and have elected mayors.
To help realize his idea, Mr. Hashimoto established the Ishin-no Kai party. It gained a majority in the prefectural assembly and a plurality in the city assembly in the April local elections.
But it is unclear why a reorganization of the present system is needed. It appears that Mr. Hashimoto is most interested in gaining control of Osaka City’s power, financial resources and projects. Given his goal of eventually reorganizing Osaka Prefecture and Osaka City into an Osaka Metropolitan Government, Mr. Hashimoto’s moves go against the spirit of the 2000 devolution promotion law. Under the law, Osaka City took over powers possessed by the prefectural government to improve large roads and parks and impose certain regulations in urban planning.
It is also unclear what kinds of benefits Osaka residents would gain in administrative services, economics and employment if Mr. Hashimoto’s idea was realized.
Mr. Hiramatsu calls for upgrading Osaka City to a “special autonomous city” that would have power and funds similar to those of a prefectural government. In theory, this would be in line with the general idea of devolution. But his idea is still vague.
Mr. Hashimoto’s moves should be scrutinized more carefully than Mr. Hiramatsu’s because the former’s political style is populist. Osaka Ishin-no Kai itself violates the principle of having local assemblies and local government heads serve as checks for one another. It also has proposed a prefectural by-law that would regulate school teachers and would allow the prefectural governor to directly intervene in education. Osaka residents should think carefully before casting their votes.