Hashimoto’s costly political stunt

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, who tendered his resignation to the city assembly Feb. 7, lost his job Feb. 27 after the assembly declined to consent to his resignation. It’s another step in a process that is set to culminate in a mayoral election March 23.

Osaka residents may have difficulty understanding why the election is even necessary. That’s because Hashimoto’s sudden move to step down is nothing more than a political gambit to get support for his pet idea of integrating Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka to form a single metropolitan entity called Osaka-to.

He tendered his resignation after a committee formed by the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture to work out details of the integration plan opposed his idea of amalgamating four proposals concerning reorganization of the city of Osaka into one proposal.

Hashimoto hopes to increase momentum for the integration plan by securing Osaka residents’ support for it in the election. His tactics are based on the belief that he is so popular that he will win the election by a landslide. He may also be calculating that if he can launch Osaka-to by April 2015, it will help Osaka Ishin-no Kai, his local party, survive as a political force.

He is expected to state in his election platform that he will remove from the committee those members of parties that oppose his integration plan — namely the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party.

New Komeito has not been targeted because it has cooperated with Hashimoto to some extent.

These parties will not field candidates in the coming election because they have not been able to find a candidate strong enough to beat Hashimoto, and because they think that if they lose in the election it will give a clear mandate to Hashimoto. They criticize Hashimoto’s move, saying there is no justification for the election.

Hashimoto is clearly making light of the assembly, which as a democratically elected body represents the will of local citizens. He tendered his resignation only because parties in the assembly did not support a proposal of his related to the integration plan. His election platform is apparently aimed at pressuring the parties that have representatives in the assembly. Although the parties in the city assembly will not run candidates, the mayoral election will likely be held because minor candidates will likely to run. Held under such unusual circumstances, the election will not be constructive and is essentially a huge waste of public funds.

Even if Hashimoto wins, it will be difficult for him to claim that he has received a mandate from Osaka residents, because he will have defeated only minor candidates. It will also be difficult for him to get cooperation from the parties in the assembly as there will be a series of local elections in the spring of 2015 and candidates from these parties will run against Hashimoto-affliliated candidates.

Unless Hashimoto can improve his relations with the parties in the assembly, his election victory may prove hollow. Instead of engaging in political stunts, he should return to the basics of parliamentary politics, which attach importance to the ability to persuade, compromise, and make deals and concessions.