Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s surprise announcement that he is resigning but will stand again for election is being greeted with criticism and concern in Osaka.

Many are wondering what the purpose is of a campaign that might cost ¥600 million in taxpayers’ money and yet make no difference in the political structure of the municipal assembly, which now opposes Hashimoto’s top goal of integrating the city of Osaka with the prefecture.

Hashimoto, also co-leader of Nippon Ishin no Kai (Japan Restoration Party), said he is resigning and calling a snap election because municipal and prefectural politicians rejected a local bid last Friday to reach a compromise on four different proposals for integrating wards in Osaka.

The bid, which would have created a plan for dividing the city of Osaka into five or six semiautonomous wards — a crucial first step toward turning the prefecture into one metropolitan entity — was voted down by New Komeito.

New Komeito is Osaka Ishin’s coalition partner, and its support is needed for Osaka Ishin to form a majority in the municipal and prefectural assemblies. But the party has long been skeptical of the Osaka integration plan and said Friday that more discussion was needed.

That, for Hashimoto, was the final straw. In the November 2011 Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial elections that brought Hashimoto and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui to power, New Komeito agreed to cooperate with Hashimoto on an Osaka integration plan in return for being a coalition partner.

“New Komeito broke its election promise. Since even they are opposed to the Osaka integration plan, discussion is stopped,” Hashimoto said Saturday.

Hashimoto remains personally popular, but Osaka Ishin members are worried about a voter backlash, especially if the opposition parties in the area, including the Liberal Democratic Party, rally behind a single candidate with strong local recognition and New Komeito takes a neutral stance. Hashimoto has hinted he will quit politics if he loses re-election.

His immediate future as co-leader of Nippon Ishin is also in doubt, but is expected to be made clear on Monday, when he and Matsui hold a joint press conference. The party remains wracked by fundamental differences between the mostly Osaka faction, which is loyal to Hashimoto and Matsui, and the Tokyo faction of Diet leaders who were brought into the fold by former Tokyo Gov. and Nippon Ishin co-leader Shintaro Ishihara.

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