The governor and mayor of Osaka tendered their resignations Friday to seek election in each other’s current position with the aim of reorganizing the major city into a metropolitan government system similar to Tokyo’s.
Gov Ichiro Matsui and Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura, respectively the leader and policy chief of the local political group Osaka Ishin no Kai, are set to leave their posts on March 20 and run in a double election that will coincide with the unified local polls on April 7.
The idea to create the “Osaka metropolis” — originally a pet project of former Osaka Gov and Mayor Toru Hashimoto — is aimed at saving taxpayers’ money by reducing administrative overlaps between the prefectural and city governments. Voters rejected it by a narrow margin in a city referendum in May 2015.
Matsui and Yoshimura were both elected to their current posts in November 2015 on a platform to resurrect the metropolis plan.
The Osaka Ishin no Kai does not hold a majority in either the Osaka prefectural or the mayoral assembly but seats in both councils will be up for grabs in the elections on April 7.
The regional political group aims for simultaneous victories in the upcoming elections by boosting momentum toward the metropolis initiative and increasing voter turnout.
If the two leaders simply sought re-election in their current positions, they would have to again go to the polls when their original four-year terms expire later this year.
In running for each other’s positions, they apparently intend to fend off criticism that their resignations are wasting taxpayers money by ensuring an additional election is not required.
“The Osaka prefecture and city have worked together as one. Even though we will change positions, our service to the citizens will remain unchanged,” Matsui said of the upcoming double election at a meeting of the political group.
A local referendum on the Osaka metropolis plan would be held after a plan for the administration reform is endorsed by a panel involving members of the Osaka prefectural and city assemblies and then by both of the councils.
The group led by Matsui had initially aimed to hold a referendum last year, but the plan was blocked by the slow progress of talks.
The two leaders offered to step down after the Komeito party, a key player in the local assemblies, objected to a plan to hold the legally binding plebiscite in November at a panel meeting Thursday.
It is not the first time the regional political group has resorted to such a strategy as Hashimoto, its founder, stepped down in 2011 as Osaka governor to become mayor in the western Japan city.
Matsui, who was then an Osaka prefectural assembly member, was elected as governor in a race to pick Hashimoto’s successor.
Opposition forces in the local assemblies, including the Liberal Democratic Party and the Japanese Communist Party, have criticized Osaka Ishin no Kai’s approach, arguing the group is attempting to use the elections for its own benefit.
The idea of creating a metropolitan Osaka government involves abolishing the city’s current 24 wards and establishing special wards similar to those in the country’s capital Tokyo, where mayors and assembly members for each ward are chosen by election.