OSAKA – Voters cast their ballots for continuity over change on Sunday, with Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and outgoing Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s hand-picked successor, Hirofumi Yoshimura, declaring their win over the established party challengers.
The double victory by Matsui and Yoshimura is also expected to give a much-needed boost to efforts by Hashimoto and Matsui to attract current Diet members to their fledgling national political party Osaka Ishin no Kai, and to that party’s efforts to recruit strong candidates over the coming months for next summer’s Upper House election and, possibly, a Lower House election as well.
What the election results will mean to the national political scene over the coming weeks is unclear.
Matsui and Hashimoto attracted the attention of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who see the two Osaka leaders and their new national party as potential allies.
As Osaka Ishin’s policies on constitutional revision and educational reform mirror those of Abe, it is expected that the new party will ally itself with the LDP on these and possibly other issues.
Asked about the effect their wins will have on the national Osaka Ishin party, Matsui spoke in a positive manner.
“The victories will be a plus for the party as a whole, but just how much of a plus they will turn out to be is uncertain,” he said, adding that no decisions have yet been made as to whether the party will offer political support to candidates running in local elections in other Kansai-area prefectures.
On the other hand, the results represent twin defeats for the local chapters of the Liberal Democratic Party which, along with local chapters of the Japanese Communist Party and the Democratic Party of Japan, supported challengers Takako Kurihara, 53, in the gubernatorial election and Akira Yanagimoto, 41, in the mayoral contest.
Komeito, which was officially neutral in the election, had opposed efforts by Matsui and Yoshimura to once again put the issue of merging Osaka’s 24 wards to a referendum.
A May referendum on a merger plan backed by Hashimoto and Matsui was voted down by just over 10,000 votes out of about 1.4 million cast.
Despite their victories, Matsui and Yoshimura face problems carrying out their plan to once again put a merger proposal to a referendum.
Such efforts first require the approval of the prefectural and municipal assemblies, where the established parties form the opposition majority.
Whether or not Matsui and Yoshimura will be able to compromise with the LDP, Komeito, the DPJ and the JCP on this issue and present a referendum proposal that the majority of voters will approve of remains to be seen.
At a press conference following their victories, both men emphasized that their work to integrate the city’s wards will continue, but that there will be some adjustments, especially to the merger referendum proposal that Osaka Ishin wanted but that city voters rejected in May.
“We’re going to work put forward a revised plan for the merger. Discussions will continue with all parties,” Yoshimura said.