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An unprecedented referendum campaign on the future of the city of Osaka kicked off Monday with appeals from Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) and from the major established political parties, which all oppose him.

On May 17, the city’s roughly 2.15 million voters will decide whether they want to abolish the 24-ward system and merge them into five semi-autonomous wards with populations between 340,000 and 690,000, by 2017. The move would dissolve the municipal assembly and allow residents in the new wards to elect their own leaders and legislative bodies.

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