Hashimoto fails in his gambit

Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto was re-elected Sunday in a snap mayoral election that he had maneuvered the city into holding. He had hoped that, through the election, he could strengthen Osaka city residents’ support for his plan to integrate Osaka Prefecture with the city of Osaka to form a single metropolitan entity called Osaka-to.

The election results, however, suggest that his efforts fell short and that he will face difficulty gaining further support for his plan even as he tries to increase momentum for it. The results should give him food for thought on how he should conduct politics.

Hashimoto tendered his resignation on Feb. 3 to the city assembly after his integration plan encountered opposition from the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan, New Komeito and the Japanese Communist Party in the assembly. He hoped to get a mandate for his plan in a new mayoral election, but his resignation showed he was making light of the assembly. Because the assembly did not accept his resignation, he lost his job Feb. 27, and the snap election was held Sunday.

The four political parties did not field candidates, saying the election could not be justified. Besides Hashimoto, three candidates with weak support ran. The voter turnout for the Sunday election was only 23.59 percent, the lowest ever and less than half the 60.92 percent for the November 2011 mayoral election, which was held together with an Osaka gubernatorial election.

On Sunday Hashimoto garnered 377,472 votes, about half the 750,813 votes he got in the 2011 election.

Sunday’s election was a virtual referendum on Hashimoto’s city-prefecture integration plan. He should consider what the election results mean. Faulty ballots numbered 67,506, or 13.53, percent of all the ballots cast — more than the votes combined cast for the three other candidates. Of these, 45,098 were blank ballots. These votes should be interpreted as expressing criticism of either Hashimoto’s integration plan, or his political style, or both.

Gov. Ichiro Matsui of Osaka Prefecture, who is secretary general of Osaka Ishin-no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association) headed by Hashimoto, said the election results expressed Osaka residents’ wish that Hashimoto show a detailed design of his integration plan. His argument is far-fetched.

Separately Hashimoto was dealt a blow Sunday when Yoshinobu Okada, an Osaka prefectural assembly member from Osaka Ishin-no Kai, announced that he will leave the group. He said he could no longer support Hashimoto or Shintaro Ishihara, who supports the export of nuclear power plants and is co-leader of Nippon Ishin-no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), of which Hashimoto is co-leader.

Hashimoto should realize that his political style, characterized by his self-serving gambit, has caused distrust.

Hashimoto should remember the simple fact that his election as a mayor does not give him the right to ignore others’ opinions when he acts on an issue. He should remember that the city assembly also represents residents’ will as expressed in an election. He needs to develop the capability either to make concessions to the assembly or to work out compromises so that policy measures will be formed smoothly.

The weak point of his city-prefecture integration plan is that it does not clearly show how it will improve residents’ well-being. He insists that the Osaka-to plan is necessary to eliminate overlapping administrative functions carried out by the city of Osaka and Osaka Prefecture. But this kind of problem should be resolved primarily through enhanced communication and cooperation between the two local governments.

Hashimoto needs to explain convincingly why his large-scale integration plan is needed to eliminate that overlap.