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As Osaka enters 2019 with a full political schedule, including local and national elections and the Group of 20 Leaders’ Summit, relations between ruling coalition partners Komeito and Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), a local political party, remain tense, creating potential political problems in both Osaka and for Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s efforts toward constitutional revision.

On Wednesday, Osaka Gov. Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura skipped a New Year’s party at Komeito’s Osaka headquarters. The Osaka Ishin leaders, whose party controls a plurality in the prefectural and municipal assemblies and needs Komeito to form a majority, are angry at opposition by Komeito toward an Osaka Ishin-backed plan to hold a referendum on merging Osaka city into four semiautonomous wards.

Matsui claims a 2017 agreement with Komeito, made public last month, means both parties had agreed to hold a referendum before local elections in April. Komeito has said the agreement referred instead to the end of the terms of Matsui and Yoshimura, which expire in November and December.

Komeito has long opposed Osaka Ishin’s merger plan, as has the local chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party and all major opposition parties. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has also said he is opposed. But Matsui and Yoshimura have threatened to resign and call mayoral and gubernatorial elections in April unless Komeito changes its stance.

In remarks at Wednesday’s party, Lower House member and Komeito Osaka chapter head Shigeki Sato touched on the elections and the recent selection of Osaka as host of the 2025 World Expo, but avoided the merger controversy.

“The real work begins now to make the 2025 Expo a success, and with the local elections and the Upper House election, we need to do everything to win in order to build on Komeito’s strong foundation,” Sato said.

In the current 85-seat municipal assembly, Osaka Ishin has 34 seats and Komeito controls 19 seats. The LDP has 21 seats. In the current 86 seat prefectural assembly, Osaka Ishin has 40 seats and Komeito has 15 seats, while the LDP has 26 seats.

Having failed so far to fulfill its promise to voters to merge the city’s wards, Osaka Ishin faces tough elections in April. A loss of just three seats in the municipal assembly by Osaka Ishin to the LDP with Komeito holding on to all 19 seats might lead to an LDP-Komeito majority in that chamber.

That, in turn, could impact Nippon Ishin no Kai, the national party affiliated with Osaka Ishin, in July’s Upper House election. Four Upper House seats in the Osaka electoral district are up for grabs. The LDP will field two candidates and Komeito one candidate. Nippon Ishin, which favors constitutional revision, has decided on only one of the two candidates it hopes to field.

Four of the major opposition parties have also settled on their candidates. If their victories come at the expense of a weakened Nippon Ishin, it will be tougher for those seeking constitutional revision to achieve the required two-thirds majority in the Upper House.

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