A joint panel set up by Osaka’s prefectural and municipal governments has approved a so-called Osaka metropolis plan to reorganize the city into four special wards governed directly by the prefecture in 2025.

Following Thursday’s approval, the city of Osaka is planning to hold a second referendum on the metropolis initiative early next November. In May 2015, voters in the city rejected the structural reform by a slim margin.

On Thursday, the panel adopted the reform framework by a majority vote, with the support of panel members from Osaka Ishin no Kai, a regional political group, and Komeito, the coalition partner of ruling the Liberal Democratic Party at the national level.

“We managed to come this far,” Mayor Ichiro Matsui, who leads Osaka Ishin, told reporters after the panel meeting. “We’re telling the people that we’ll create a better Osaka.”

“We’ll work to have our party’s supporters vote for the metropolis plan in the referendum,” said Shigeki Sato, head of Komeito’s Osaka chapter.

Following the May 2015 referendum, Matsui and Hirofumi Yoshimura, also from Osaka Ishin, won the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections, respectively, in December that year by pledging to give the metropolis plan another try.

The panel resumed talks in June 2017, but it hit a stalemate early this year due to a disagreement between Komeito and Matsui, who was the Osaka governor at the time.

But Komeito changed its stance and threw its support behind the metropolis plan after Osaka Ishin rebooted the realignment initiative following the Osaka mayoral and gubernatorial polls in April, in which Matsui and Yoshimura swapped positions.

Ahead of the vote at the panel meeting Thursday, an Osaka Ishin member said that it is necessary to resolve the current “double administration” in the city, which could hamper its growth due to possible differences of opinions with the prefectural side.

On the other hand, an LDP member claimed that the structural reform could backfire and lead to a deterioration of administrative services for residents.

A Japanese Communist Party member argued that splitting the city into special wards will bring no benefit and may even cause a lot of harm.

The approved reform framework calls for not building new offices for the envisioned special wards for the time being but using existing office buildings of the city government and the 24 wards under the city. It also calls for setting up child counseling centers in all of the special wards.

The Osaka panel will finalize the metropolis plan after holding town meetings on the matter from around April. The prefectural and city assemblies will likely vote on the reform plan around next summer. The reorganization plan, if it clears both assemblies, will then be put to a referendum.

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