Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto has called on a municipal-prefectural committee examining his plan to integrate the city of Osaka to approve it at its next meeting on Jan. 13.

If that happens, the full city assembly would debate the plan in February. Hashimoto is pushing the assembly to approve it, which would pave the way for a local referendum on May 17 after the nationwide local elections in April.

At a specially convened committee meeting on Dec. 30, the schedule envisioned by Hashimoto was supported by Komeito but opposed by all other parties.

If all goes according to the current plan, the city and prefectural assemblies, where Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) political group and Komeito hold majorities, will finalize decisions on the matter by mid-March, just before campaigning begins for the local elections.

Hashimoto’s plan would consolidate Osaka’s 24 wards, which have a total population of about 2.6 million residents, into five semiautonomous districts, each with roughly half a million people. Each district would have its own elected head and council, and the Osaka mayoral and city assembly positions would disappear.

Komeito, along with all other major parties, has long opposed Hashimoto’s plan. Komeito says it remains opposed to the current version but that it will support making a decision on Jan. 13 and then holding a referendum.

The turnabout came after Komeito’s central headquarters pressured the Osaka chapter to go along with Hashimoto. Komeito officials said the change of heart was triggered when Hashimoto’s Ishin no To (Japan Innovation Party) won the most proportional representation seats in Osaka Prefecture in last month’s snap Lower House election.

“This is a sign that (Komeito) deeply respects the will of the people,” Hashimoto said, praising the party’s decision after the Dec. 30 meeting.

However, some in Osaka are suspicious that Komeito’s central office worked out a deal with Hashimoto before the election, whereby Hashimoto would opt out of running for a Diet seat in exchange for Komeito’s support on the merger issue.