Hashimoto’s self-serving gambit

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto plans to tender his resignation to the city assembly today. This move is nothing more than a political gambit after he hit a snag concerning his plan to integrate Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka to form one metropolitan entity, Osaka-to. By calling a snap mayoral election, he hopes to secure Osaka city residents’ support for his plan and increase momentum for it. Although he may think his move is logical, his resignation is too sudden and coincides with the city government’s compilation of a budget for fiscal 2014. In addition, the snap election will cost about ¥600 million. His resignation and the snap election will negatively affect the lives of Osaka residents.

Opposition forces in the city assembly have frustrated his approach to the Osaka integration plan. He appears to think that if he wins in the coming election, it will give him carte blanche to force his approach on the assembly. Otherwise, he would not have called a snap election. But he should realize that city assembly members were elected through an election and thus represent the will of Osaka residents just as he, as a mayor elected through an election, represents the will of the residents.

His decision reveals that he does not appreciate the basic structure of local autonomy, in which local legislative decisions are made through consultations and compromise between a mayor and an assembly, both of which are elected through elections.

Even if Hashimoto wins in the snap mayoral election, it will only deepen confusion in Osaka city politics since the composition of the city assembly will remain the same.

Hashimoto was elected governor of Osaka Prefecture in January 2008. He later resigned, ran in an Osaka mayoral election in November 2011 by selling his Osaka integration plan, and won.

In a gubernatorial election also held at that time, his ally Ichiro Matsui was elected Osaka governor. Hashimoto thinks the Osaka integration will help reduce waste of public money because it will eliminate overlapping projects between Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. Under the plan, the city of Osaka will be divided into wards, each having a population of 300,000 to 500,000, and they will be integrated with Osaka Prefecture to form a new metropolitan entity. Each ward will have a mayor and an assembly.

In August 2012, the Diet enacted a bill to help push the integration plan. In February 2013, the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture started a committee to work out details of the plan.

Hashimoto’s decision to step down came after the committee opposed his idea of amalgamating four proposals concerning reorganization of the city of Osaka into one proposal. In the committee, only Osaka Ishin-no Kai, Hashimoto’s local party under the umbrella of Nippon Ishin-no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), supported him. New Komeito, which Hashimoto had hoped would cooperate, joined other assembly forces in opposing him.

Hashimoto apparently thought that the outcome destroyed his plan to hold a referendum on the Osaka integration plan next autumn after presenting details of the plan. He should admit that the integration plan contains many vague points and that he cannot convincingly show that it will improve the well-being of Osaka residents. Even if he wins in the election, there is no guarantee that things will go smoothly. Hashimoto needs to understand the importance of settling political issues through negotiations and compromise. His decision to use an election as a means of imposing his will on the assembly deserves condemnation.