National / Politics

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui reveals deal with Komeito to hold referendum on merging city wards

by Eric Johnston

Staff Writer

Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui revealed Wednesday that his Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka) political group had signed a deal with Komeito, in April 2017, to hold a referendum on merging the city’s wards during the current terms of the prefectural and municipal assembly members, which expire in April 2019.

The governor also hinted that he and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, both of whose own terms expire at the end of 2019, may soon decide to quit and hold their re-elections in April to coincide with the Osaka local elections.

“I’m not excluding any possibilities,” Matsui told Osaka media when asked about whether he and the mayor would step down before their terms officially expire.

Matsui’s stance reflects growing frustration with Komeito, which works with Osaka Ishin in both the municipal and prefectural assemblies to form a majority. The two parties, however, have long been at odds over Osaka Ishin’s desire to abolish the city’s current 24 wards under the current municipal assembly system and create four semi-autonomous wards, each with its own mayor and separate assembly — a plan Komeito continues to oppose.

Matsui and Yoshimura’s threat to resign earlier this week if Komeito didn’t keep a promise to honor the April 2017 agreement, which was not then public, prompted Komeito’s Osaka chapter head and Lower House member Shigeki Sato to tell reporters Tuesday that carrying out a referendum “during the term” meant during the terms of Matsui and Yoshimura, which expire in late 2019, not during the terms of the local assembly members.

Citing a busy political schedule next year, Komeito wants to put off the referendum until after the April local elections and the July Upper House election. Matsui and Yoshimura had hoped to hold the referendum on the same day as the Upper House election.

Osaka Ishin faces tough elections in April, and losing seats to the Liberal Democratic Party — which is nominally the opposition — could lead to an LDP-Komeito ruling coalition in one or both local legislative bodies.

On Wednesday, Matsui released the one page agreement with Komeito that refers to holding a referendum within the terms, on the proviso that a joint prefectural-municipal committee in charge of discussions on the merger plan makes its best efforts.

“The agreement clearly refers to the terms of the assembly members. If (Komeito) is a responsible political party, they’ll respond based on this agreement,” Matsui said.

The fate of the merger plan, which was narrowly rejected by voters in a May 2015 referendum, along with Osaka’s quest to win a bid to host a casino integrated resort, are expected to be two of the main issues in April’s local elections.