OSAKA – Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto continues to fuel speculation that his political career will not end in November and that he might end up as an outside adviser to, or even a non-elected member of, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Cabinet by the end of the year.
Hashimoto will not seek re-election in a Nov. 22 double election for mayor and governor, but on Twitter on Tuesday he said he had never made any public pledges to the Japanese people about life after he leaves office.
“If you don’t like me, vote me out at election time. Politicians are completely tied to their public pledges, and there are a variety of ways to carry them out,” the mayor wrote.
Hashimoto’s future has been the subject of much discussion since he failed in a May referendum to win support to integrate Osaka’s wards into five semi-autonomous entities. There have been numerous media reports over the past few weeks that he might be a candidate to replace Abe favorite Sanae Takaichi as the minister for internal affairs and communications — the head of the ministry in charge of any Osaka city-prefectural merger, which is Hashimoto’s ultimate goal.
The mayor has refused to comment on the reports but local Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) party members say there has been talk within the party about what would happen if he did end up in Tokyo.
Some feel Hashimoto’s appointment as minister or outside adviser would greatly boost local support for a merger. Others worry that without Hashimoto’s presence in Osaka, enthusiasm for Osaka Ishin and the new national party he and Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui are forming next month will be tepid.
If Matsui agrees to stand for re-election, he could face a tough race. On Tuesday evening, former Osaka Mayor Kunio Hiramatsu, who lost to Hashimoto four years ago, indicated he was ready to run for governor on an “all anti-Hashimoto” platform if another suitable candidate didn’t appear.
Hiramatsu, a former television announcer, was originally elected with support from the Democratic Party of Japan. He could prove a strong challenger to Matsui if he gains the support of nonaligned voters or those who belong to the other established parties opposed to Hashimoto.