Many hurdles ahead for an Osaka metropolis
Former Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto won Sunday's Osaka mayoral election. Hashimoto, who heads Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka restoration group), a local party, had resigned as Osaka governor to run in the mayoral race.
In the Osaka gubernatorial election, Ichiro Matsui, the local party's secretary general Hashimoto named as his successor, also won.
The party's victories in the elections represented a success for Hashimoto's strategy of engineering the double election, stepping down as governor before his four-year term of office was due to expire.
The main issue in the double election was Hashimoto's proposal to establish an Osaka metropolis.
In an envisioned overhaul of the local administrative system, he called for the reorganization of the Osaka prefectural government and the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments into a metropolis that provides administrative services in a wider area.
As for the areas currently under the jurisdiction of the Osaka and Sakai municipal governments, Hashimoto proposed dividing the cities into 10 to 12 special administrative wards that will provide services for local residents and introducing elections by popular vote to choose ward mayors, as in Tokyo.
New sources of revenue
Hashimoto called for conserving fiscal resources by eliminating overlapping administrative services by the prefectural and municipal governments and promoting growth strategies by consolidating industrial policies and projects to improve infrastructure.
Matsui also urged implementing the plan.
Other candidates supported by prefectural chapters of the Democratic Party of Japan and the Liberal Democratic Party failed to win broader voter support as they were unable to present clear counterproposals against Hashimoto's Osaka metropolis proposal.
The election results apparently reflect voters' desire for strong leadership and bold system reforms to revitalize Osaka.
If the outcome of Sunday's elections helps end what Hashimoto called the "100-year battle between the Osaka prefectural and Osaka city governments," it will certainly benefit residents of Osaka Prefecture.
Another issue of contention in Sunday's elections was Hashimoto's high-handed tactics.
Hashimoto managed to increase his support by treating public officials and others opposing him as "resistance forces," causing friction with them in the process.
In some ways, it is understandable that rival candidates attacked Hashimoto as "dictatorial."
Hashimoto should humbly take to heart the votes cast against him.
Moves will now accelerate in Osaka Prefecture to realize an Osaka metropolis.
Those promoting the idea will have to present specific plans on how to divide cities into wards as well as how to secure tax and fiscal resources and sufficiently explain the plan's benefits to voters.
Election only first obstacle
The double election was only one hurdle that must be cleared before establishing an Osaka metropolis.
Various other hurdles are expected ahead, including approvals by local assemblies, local referendums and revisions of the Local Government Law.
Expected to be particularly difficult are legislative procedures that will be necessary to transform the prefecture and the municipalities into a metropolis.
This is because such procedures will require drastic reviews of what forms local government organs and administrative systems should take.
Not a few among the ruling and opposition parties oppose the Osaka metropolis plan. DPJ Policy Research Committee Chairman Seiji Maehara said, "[The plan] is meant to strengthen the authority of prefectural governments, which runs counter to our party's policy."
Osaka is faced with grave problems.
But many of them, such as a faltering local economy and an increasing number of welfare recipients, cannot be resolved simply through reform of the administrative system.
The reform of the public servant system Hashimoto pledged during the election campaign will also be tested.
What actions will Hashimoto, who managed to build political foundations both in Osaka prefectural and city governments, take now?
We hope he will present us with tangible outcomes through his "system restoration."
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Nov. 28, 2011)