Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, coleader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), criticized on Tuesday a proposal by Sakai Mayor Osami Takeyama to hold a city referendum on participating in an integrated Osaka, calling it nonsense and a political stunt.

“Ridiculous. What’s going to happen if you hold a referendum at a stage when the details of the integration are not yet understood? This is being done for his political campaign,” Hashimoto said.

Takeyama, mayor of Osaka Prefecture’s second-largest city, is opposed to a plan backed by Hashimoto and his Osaka political group, Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), to merge all of the prefecture’s cities to create a government entity along the lines of Tokyo’s 23 wards.

The Sakai mayoral election takes place in October, and Takeyama has indicated he wants a referendum at around the same time.

Opposition to the Osaka integration plan, a fundamental goal of Hashimoto and his party, has been growing in Sakai.

Takeyama, who is refusing to participate in a group of local leaders established last year to plan for integration, is expected to face off against an Osaka Ishin candidate.

For Hashimoto and his supporters, the Sakai mayoral race is one they can’t afford to lose, especially given setbacks elsewhere.

Last month, Nippon Ishin candidates lost mayoral races in the cities of Takarazuka and Itami in neighboring Hyogo Prefecture. Since the beginning of the year, candidates supported by Nippon Ishin have lost in 13 local elections nationwide.

While Nippon Ishin Secretary General and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui has indicated the party will field a candidate in the July 21 Hyogo gubernatorial election, other Nippon Ishin officials are doubtful they can win. Current Hyogo Gov. Toshizo Ido, who has clashed with Hashimoto over the future of Itami airport and the integration of Kansai’s governments, is expected to run for re-election.

A loss to Ido, and then to Takeyama in October, would be a huge setback for Nippon Ishin’s Osaka base, regardless of what happens to their candidates in the Upper House election.

A victory over Takeyama, on the other hand, would at least move the Osaka integration plan, which Hashimoto hopes to complete sometime after 2014, a oe step closer to reality.

Preliminary referendum

Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party) coleader Toru Hashimoto said Monday that a preliminary referendum is needed before Article 96 or Article 9 of the Constitution is revised.

“As to Article 9, it’s necessary to respectfully explain to the Japanese people what the issues are and to thoroughly debate it. Before a national referendum on revising the Constitution, we should do a preliminary referendum on Article 9,” Hashimoto said on his Twitter account Monday, which has more than 1 million followers.

Nippon Ishin supports lowering the required number of Diet votes for constitutional revision under Article 96 from two-thirds in both houses to a simple majority, and for rewriting the war-renouncing Article 9.

While media attention is focused on whether the prorevision forces will end up with two-thirds of the Upper House seats after this summer’s election, Hashimoto is looking beyond that campaign to the national referendum that would be required if the Diet approves any revisions.

The Liberal Democratic Party, Nippon Ishin and Your Party favor revising Article 96. But LDP coalition partner New Komeito has expressed reservations.

“The LDP is talking about putting forward a bill to revise (Article 96 of) the Constitution this autumn if they get the necessary support in the Upper House. But they’re not thinking about a process to carry this out,” Hashimoto said.

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