Osaka – Hang on. Haven’t we seen this movie before?
That’s the question Osaka voters could be forgiven for asking, following the Friday meeting with Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and their opponents that degenerated into name-calling and ended with no progress on an agreement to integrate Osaka administratively.
The meeting came just over two months after Hashimoto’s first effort to merge the city’s 24 wards into five semi-autonomous wards, which was opposed by all other established parties and rejected (just barely) by municipal voters.
In order to try to find common ground, Hashimoto and the opposition parties, especially the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, agreed to form a new group to explore ways to reduce bureaucratic redundancy between Osaka Prefecture and the city of Osaka. But when Hashimoto said the group should officially state that its goal is to come up with an alternative to the plan that was rejected in May, he ran into opposition.
“It’s not necessary to officially state that. The referendum was voted down. What are you trying to do, bringing up something that is already finished?” said LDP prefectural member Mitsuyoshi Hanaya.
A second meeting is scheduled for next month, assuming all sides calm down and agree to hold it. If an alternative plan does emerge, it’s likely to be some version of one being discussed by the LDP’s Osaka chapter.
This proposal would, the LDP says, upgrade administrative cooperation between the wards into 11 administrative areas without actually merging them (or eliminating the mayoral and city assembly positions) like Hashimoto wants. Ward heads would get more authority from the city assembly. But unlike the Osaka Ishin plan, they would not have budget autonomy.
With Hashimoto and Matsui finishing their terms in November and voters still angry at the way all parties conducted themselves over the referendum, Osaka Ishin, the LDP and Komeito do not want to be seen, and do not want their future mayoral and gubernatorial candidates to be seen, as unreasonable by voters tired of the fuss and tax money spent on the May referendum.
Thus, although Osaka Ishin’s plan failed at the box office of public opinion in May, there is now an alternate ending with the LDP proposal.
Despite Friday’s outcome, the double election theoretically means all parties have the motivation to engage in ensemble acting rather than passionate soliloquies designed to garner applause for themselves.
If so, this movie might just turn out differently, regardless of who replaces the lead actors in November.
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