The defeat of an Osaka Ishin no Kai candidate in Sunday’s mayoral election in Sakai, Osaka Prefecture, has dealt a blow to the political standing of Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who heads that organization and serves as a co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (The Japan Restoration Party), which has 62 Diet members under its wing.
It could also spell doom for Mr. Hashimoto’s pet idea of creating Osaka-to, a large administrative entity into which the Osaka prefectural government and key city governments within Osaka Prefecture, including Osaka City, would be merged.
Mr. Osami Takeyama, the incumbent mayor, had feuded with Mr. Katsutoshi Nishibayashi, a member of the Sakai municipal assembly who ran on the Osaka Ishin no Kai ticket. The election concerned whether Sakai, adjacent to Osaka City, should become part of the proposed Osaka-to.
Although Mr. Takeyama won his first term as Sakai mayor with the backing of Mr. Hashimoto, then the Osaka prefectural governor, he stressed the importance of maintaining Sakai’s autonomy and opposed the idea of merging the city into Osaka-to. Mr. Nishibayashi, meanwhile, supported the merger.
Mr. Takeyama was supported by the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party. The Japan Communist Party and the Social Democratic Party gave him their unofficial support. The election roused the interest of citizens and voter turnout was 50.69 percent, up 6.76 points from the previous mayoral election in 2009. Mr. Takeyama won 198,431 votes against Mr. Nishibayashi’s 140,569 votes.
With Mr. Takeyama winning, the prospect of the creation of Osaka-to has become cloudy. Under the Osaka-to idea, cities like Osaka and Sakai would be divided into smaller wards under the umbrella of Osaka-to. The wards would take care of administrative services close to the concerns of their residents.
The problem is that it is unclear whether residents’ quality of life would improve through the creation of Osaka-to. For example, Mr. Hashimoto hopes to privatize the Osaka city subway system, whose operation is in the black. How would selling a profitable public transportation system to a private company benefit residents?
It is estimated that the creation of Osaka-to would save up to ¥97 billion, including ¥27 billion from a reduction in the number of public servants. But the amount is far less than the goal of ¥400 billion stated by supporters of the proposal.
It is also estimated that initial investments would cost up to ¥64 billion and that assembly expenses would reach ¥13 billion yearly. It is uncertain whether the merged administrative body would have enough funds to give the local economy a much needed boost.
The Sakai mayoral election result shows that local residents have become fed up with talk of big reform proposals such as establishing Osaka-to. As Mr. Sumio Mabuchi, head of DPJ election headquarters, suggested, people fear that if Osaka-to came into being, the history of local communities would be neglected and that the concept is far from what residents wish to see anyway.
It is now all the more important for local government heads to concentrate on improving administrative services and enhancing administrative efficiency in a steady, realistic manner.