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LDP turns around on Osaka metropolis plan, OKs referendum

The Osaka Prefectural Government building is seen in Osaka's Chuo Ward, on Feb. 25, 2019. (Mainichi/Yumi Shibamura)

OSAKA -- The ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP)'s Osaka prefectural chapter will no longer oppose a referendum on the creation of an Osaka metropolis like Tokyo, officials have indicated.

Under the metro Osaka plan, the city of Osaka would be split into special wards with publicly elected mayors and assemblies. The LDP previously openly opposed the plan and fielded an anti-metro Osaka candidate in the Osaka gubernatorial and mayoral elections that were held simultaneously in April. However, the LDP pick was defeated by a candidate running on the ticket of the regional party, Osaka Ishin no Kai (Osaka Restoration Association), which is advocating the plan.

The LDP will still not clarify whether it is for or against the metro Osaka plan, but the party will ultimately leave the decision up to local residents following discussions in a council tasked with discussing the proposal. The council comprises the Osaka governor, the mayor of the city of Osaka, and prefectural and municipal assembly members.

"The matter should be settled through a referendum," the LDP stated.

At a meeting held at a hotel in the city of Osaka on the night of June 14, LDP Osaka chapter chairman Naomi Tokashiki reached an agreement with senior officials of the LDP caucuses in the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the Osaka Municipal Assembly over the party's stance toward the council. The party will announce its new policy at a council meeting to be convened on June 21, which will be the first gathering since unified local elections in April.

Tokashiki, who assumed her current position in May, had suggested a policy of approving a referendum on the Osaka metro plan and stated, "We will discuss the (metro Osaka plan) from scratch." As this was interpreted as an expression of support for the referendum, her comment caused a stir among the LDP caucuses of the Osaka and Sakai municipal assemblies at the time. But Komeito, the LDP's junior coalition partner in the National Diet, reached an agreement with the Osaka Restoration Association on May 25 that the party would take a pro-metro Osaka plan stance in discussing the issue. Amid these moves, the LDP's stance toward the council had come into focus.

At the council's meeting before the unified local elections, the LDP had repeatedly argued that the metro Osaka plan had been settled after it was voted down in a referendum in 2015, and was unenthusiastic about discussing the initiative. The Osaka Restoration Association blasted the LDP, saying, "The LDP is creating opposition for the sake of opposition."

According to attendants of the June 14 meeting, which was attended by about 10 officials including Tokashiki, Taihei Sugimoto, secretary-general of the LDP caucus in the Osaka Prefectural Assembly, and Taeko Kitano, secretary-general of the LDP caucus in the Osaka Municipal Assembly, the events leading up to the LDP's defeat in the Osaka double elections in April emerged as topics for discussion. Attendants apparently shared a sense of crisis, worried that voters who previously supported the LDP were turning to the Osaka Restoration Association as a result of the LDP being regarded as a resistance force. The attendants confirmed that the party would not simply oppose the metro Osaka plan in the coming council meetings, but point out problems with the initiative and present counterproposals.

The attendants of the June 14 meeting also decided that the LDP's Osaka chapter would make clear that it "agrees with settling the metro Osaka initiative through a referendum," after determining that Tokashiki's statement that she was "in favor of a referendum" could be taken as an indication that the LDP chapter approves the metro Osaka plan.

Discussions will also be continued on a counterproposal presented by the LDP caucus in the Osaka Municipal Assembly. Under the counterproposal, the city of Osaka would become a special city independent from Osaka Prefecture and have its authority and financing raised to the prefectural level.

When contacted by the Mainichi, Tokashiki said, "There were misunderstandings, but we've been able to hold good discussions through mutual compromise. Everyone showed the LDP's real strength."

(Japanese original by Yoshitake Matsuura and Kensuke Yaoi, City News Department)

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