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In policy shift, Komeito to now support Osaka metropolis plan

OSAKA -- The local chapter of Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) in the central government, is poised to support a plan under which the city of Osaka would be split into special wards with publicly elected mayors and assemblies, party officials said.

Shigeki Sato, head of the party's Osaka Prefecture chapter, notified Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui and other members of Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), a regional political party promoting the proposal, of its decision on May 19.

Komeito and Osaka Ishin will hold a joint news conference on the issue after confirming the timing of a local referendum that Osaka Ishin aims to hold in autumn next year and an intraparty consensus is formed.

Osaka Ishin needs Komeito's support to carry out a referendum after the regional party failed to gain a majority in the Osaka Municipal Assembly poll last month.

Matsui, leader of Osaka Ishin, has suggested that the party would field its own candidates in six single-seat constituencies of the House of Representatives in the western Japan prefectures of Osaka and Hyogo where Komeito members hold seats, and strongly urged Komeito to back the metro plan. The decision represents a major policy shift for Komeito, which had been opposed to the so-called Osaka metropolis plan advocated by Osaka Ishin.

Komeito backed candidates that the LDP fielded in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections in April and confronted Osaka Ishin.

However, Komeito suffered a serious setback in April local elections in Osaka as a result of its confrontation with Osaka Ishin. Komeito suffered crushing defeats in the mayoral and gubernatorial races and lost a seat in the council.

Sato said on May 11 that Komeito's Osaka chapter will agree to hold a local referendum in response to the outcome of the local polls while denying that its policy change is related to Osaka Ishin's threat to field candidates in the six western Japan constituencies. "We'll hold active, constructive and positive talks on the issue in response to public opinion (expressed in the elections)," he said.

Still, Osaka Ishin warned that it would confront Komeito unless the latter supports the metro Osaka plan itself. "Just backing a referendum isn't enough. Unless it gets behind the metro plan, we'll clash head-on with the party in the lower house election," an Osaka Ishin official said.

Amid growing speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will dissolve the House of Representatives to call a general election to coincide with the next House of Councillors election this coming summer, Komeito's Osaka chapter has come under pressure from the party headquarters and the Buddhist-lay body group Soka Gakkai that supports the party to mend its ties with Osaka Ishin swiftly.

Although Komeito appears to be spared a head-on party clash with Osaka Ishin in the lower house poll, the party could come under fire from its supporters over its policy change because the party had strongly opposed the Osaka metropolis proposal.

With regard to the details of the plan, Osaka Ishin suggests that it is prepared to consider requests from Komeito that the original strategy be revised.

"We'll pursue better plans if we can hold positive discussions," said Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura, who serves as Osaka Ishin's policy chief.

(Japanese original by Toru Tsukui and Kensuke Yaoi, Osaka City News Department)

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