Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura said Monday they may step down before their terms expire next year and use their re-election bids to try and realize their goal of reorganizing the city of Osaka into a metropolitan government.
“If we can hold a unified election, we hope to again seek the judgment of the people,” Matsui told reporters, adding that he is weighing the possibility of resigning before the end of his term so that elections to pick the governor and mayor will fall on the same day as unified local elections in the spring next year.
Echoing the governor’s stance, Yoshimura said, “We’ll do everything we can.”
The proposal, originally the idea of former Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto, was put to a municipal referendum in May 2015 but was rejected by voters. Matsui and Yoshimura were both elected to their current positions in November the same year, vowing to continue the effort.
Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), a political group led by Matsui, had initially aimed to hold a referendum in the fall this year, but gave up the plan as talks did not make substantial progress at a panel involving prefectural and municipal assembly members. Matsui’s party has also been facing headwinds in pushing ahead with the issue at both assemblies, where its members do not hold a majority. He said Monday he is having difficulties in winning support from the Komeito party, which he sees as vital to realize a referendum. The Liberal Democratic Party has been against the plan.
Observers believe holding simultaneous elections would help expand voter support for Osaka Ishin.
To hold a local referendum, the panel has to come up with a document and have it passed through both prefectural and city assemblies. The terms for the Osaka governor and mayor are set to end in November and December next year, respectively. The idea of creating a metropolitan Osaka government involves abolishing the city’s current 24 wards and reorganizing them into four special wards similar to those in Tokyo, where mayors and assembly members are chosen through elections in each jurisdiction.