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This week’s featured article

ERIC JOHNSTON, THE JAPAN TIMES

As the city of Osaka prepares for Sunday’s unprecedented referendum on the merger plan being championed by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, most media polls show those opposed to the plan holding anywhere from a slim to a wide lead, though the margin is too close to call.

The referendum asks voters if they want to merge the current 24 districts, all of which have representatives in the city assembly. The merger would create five semiautonomous wards, each with its own elected head and assembly.

Hashimoto calls it the only way the city and Osaka Prefecture can eliminate redundant projects, improve efficiency and spur the city’s economic growth.

Hashimoto and his local party, Osaka Ishin no Kai, also expect the new wards to be able to compete more efficiently with Tokyo, especially in luring new businesses. They believe the new system will mean increased local democracy.

But Hashimoto’s message has been greeted with confusion, skepticism or both. Asked about what would happen if, after the merger, the prefecture wants to create a casino resort in one of the wards and the assembly says no, Hashimoto suggested the prefecture could overrule the ward.

A merger also creates questions about who pays for current and future transportation infrastructure projects. Hashimoto and the pro-merger camp want, essentially, to spread the costs around, especially since many of the projects funded by the city benefit residents who live outside of it.

A poll by the Mainichi Broadcasting System showed opposition to be particularly strong among women. This reflects concern over how social welfare services for children and the elderly would be affected. Those living in less-affluent areas are worried services might decline due to a lack of funding from the current central city government.

Tokyo is watching events carefully.

First published in The Japan Times on May 16.

Warm up

One-minute chat about elections.

Game

Collect words related to Osaka; e.g., “west,” “takoyaki,” “comedy.”

New words

1) unprecedented: never experienced before; e.g., “This is an unprecedented occasion.”

2) referendum: a vote by the people on a proposed law; e.g., “We will have referendum this weekend.”

3) merger: combining of corporations, municipalities, etc. ; e.g., “Our company is planning a merger with that firm.”

4) poll: opinion survey; e.g., “The poll shows 50 percent of the people are against the policy.”

5) skepticism: being in doubt, not believing; e.g., “They treat the rumor with skepticism.”

Guess the headline

Opinion polls go wild on eve of Osaka m_ _ _ _ _ re_ _ _ _ _ _ _ _

Questions

1) What was the major proposed change in the merger plan?

2) What did Mayor Hashimoto expect as a result of the merger?

3) According to the article, why did women tend to oppose the plan?

Let’s discuss the article

1) Were you for or against the idea of the Osaka merger?

2) What is your biggest concern about your own city?

3) What do you think needs to be done to improve your city?

Reference

史上まれにみる選挙が終わりました。この様子を、大阪以外の人々も見守っていたでしょう。 自治体の仕組みを根底から変えるというのは非常に大きな労力のいる改革です。それゆえこれほどの抜本的な改革案に賛否を投じるという経験を私たちはしてきませんでしたが、当たり前だと思っている自分の街のありかたは当たり前ではないのかもしれないということに今回私たちは気づいたのではないでしょうか。

競争力の高い街にするのか、きめ細やかなサービスが行き届く街にするのか、どのような方向性を目指して行くのかによって、自治体組織の在り方も変わってきます。 大阪都構想は実現しませんでしたが、これをきっかけに自分の住む町や市に何を訴えかけ、より住みやすい場所にしていくか、私たち一人一人が考えていきたいものです。

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