OSAKA – Former Osaka municipal assemblyman Akira Yanagimoto of the Liberal Democratic Party has been tapped to run against Ichiro Matsui, the governor of Osaka Prefecture and head of Osaka Ishin no Kai (One Osaka), in next month’s Osaka mayoral race, with the focus on whether to abolish Osaka’s 24 wards and establish four large semiautonomous districts.
Earlier this week, Matsui and current Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura announced their resignations and intention to run for each other’s positions in elections taking place on April 7, the same day as elections for the Osaka municipal and prefectural assemblies. The campaign for Osaka governor kicks off on March 21 and the mayoral campaign starts on March 24.
Matsui and Yoshimura called the elections in a bid to drum up public support and quickly decide on a proposal to merge Osaka’s wards and hold a referendum, measures that the LDP, Komeito and all other political parties have long opposed.
The merger plan will save money and improve services, according to Osaka Ishin. The opposition, however, says the plan will cost more than advertised, add to local debt and lead to less autonomy.
“I’m ready to make all efforts to take back Osaka and guard the people’s autonomy,” Yanagimoto told reporters in Osaka late Thursday evening in announcing his candidacy.
He was due to meet with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Tokyo on Friday to solicit his support, as well as with LDP Secretary-General Toshihiro Nikai and other LDP senior figures.
The 45-year-old Yanagimoto is also expected to win the backing of Komeito, which endorsed LDP candidate Tadakazu Konishi, 64, for governor on Friday. Attention now turns to whether other opposition parties, including the Japanese Communist Party, either officially endorse or unofficially support Yanagimoto in an “all anti-Osaka Ishin” campaign.
Next month’s mayoral campaign marks the second attempt at the mayor’s chair for Yanagimoto, who ran as an LDP candidate with the support of Komeito and the JCP against Yoshimura in the November 2015 election. But Yoshimura, the handpicked successor to the popular former Mayor Toru Hashimoto, won by a margin of nearly 190,000 votes.
Yanagimoto was also the public face of the opposition force during a referendum held in May 2015 regarding the merger of Osaka’s wards. The Osaka Ishin-backed plan was very narrowly voted down, with Matsui and his party vowing in the 2015 elections to try again.
Yanagimoto had originally been slated to be a candidate in the Upper House elections in July, where he had hoped to succeed his uncle, 74-year-old Takuji Yanagimoto, who is a member of Nikai’s faction. The elder Yanagimoto said last year that he would not run in the next election and retire.
As late as Wednesday, the younger Yanagimoto was denying he would run in the mayoral election. But with the start of the campaign looming, the LDP’s Osaka chapter having just decided on Konishi for the governor’s race and pressure from both Osaka-based LDP and Komeito members for him to run against Matsui in what is expected to be a tough race, he changed his mind.