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NAGOYA (Kyodo) Official campaigning kicked off Monday in Nagoya for a controversial Feb. 6 referendum on whether to dissolve the city assembly, coinciding with similarly contentious mayoral and gubernatorial elections, with Mayor Takashi Kawamura at the center of quarrels surrounding all three votes.

A civic campaign initiated by Kawamura has paved the way for the referendum after the assembly rejected his proposals to cut local taxes and the pay of assembly members.

Residents in the Aichi Prefecture capital will cast “triple votes” on Feb. 6, including for the mayoral race, in which Kawamura is set to run to test his public mandate, and the gubernatorial race in which Kawamura’s close parliamentary ally is expected to run.

It will be the first-ever recall referendum to be conducted in one of Japan’s 19 major ordinance-designated cities — population centers with more than 500,000 people and administrative powers equivalent to prefectural governments.

Kawamura, a former Democratic Party of Japan member of the House of Representatives, became mayor in April 2009 but is slated to step down Friday, two days before official campaigning begins for the mayoral race. In late November, he said he would step down to test public opinion after his recall campaign against the assembly initially failed to collect the necessary number of signatures from voters.

The group supporting Kawamura officially called for the referendum in December, however, as the city election board in a recount found that more than the legally required 365,795 signatures had been collected.

A former member of the then main opposition DPJ, Kawamura has provoked controversy by seeking to permanently cut residential taxes by 10 percent and halve the annual pay of assembly members to ¥8 million.

“Let’s change the assembly with one vote each per citizen. We should lower assembly member pay to come in line with those of citizens and continue tax reductions,” Kawamura said, addressing voters in front of Issha Station in Meito Ward in the early morning.

Meanwhile, 17 assembly members gathered at JR Kanayama Station called on voters to “Please write down ‘opposed’ (to the dissolution).”

The assembly can be dissolved by a majority of valid votes in the referendum, with an election to follow likely on March 6 or 13. If 50 percent or more oppose the dissolution, an election will be held April 10 upon the conclusion of the current members’ terms.

The assembly claims that if it is dissolved, deliberations on a draft budget for fiscal 2011 will be stymied, and that an election front-loaded from April 10 will cost an extra ¥320 million in taxpayer money.

For the gubernatorial election, official campaigning will begin Thursday with Hideaki Omura, who has been ousted by the Liberal Democratic Party and quit the Lower House to run in the race, joining hands with Kawamura.

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