Will election results boost Osaka metropolis plan?

On April 7, Japanese voters selected governors, mayors, and several thousand local assembly members. One of the most-closely watched races was in Osaka. Candidates of a local party, Osaka Ishin no Kai, won both the governor and mayoral seats. They support 'the metropolis plan' which was the biggest issue in Osaka's elections.

What is the "Osaka metropolis plan"?

The Osaka metropolis plan aims to abolish Osaka City and reorganize it into special wards just like Tokyo.

Osaka Ishin has long been calling for the plan, and claims it will cut costs by streamlining overlapping city and prefectural services, and revitalize both the prefecture and city of Osaka.
This plan was once rejected in a public vote in Osaka Prefecture in 2015, by a less-than-one-percent margin. This showed many people in Osaka supported the plan, and that's why Osaka Ishin has never given up on it.

Setting up a double election

Coinciding with the nationwide local elections, Osaka Ishin took an unprecedented and tricky step toward realizing this metropolis plan. In March, a month before the elections, Osaka Governor Ichiro Matsui and Osaka Mayor Hirofumi Yoshimura announced they would both step down. They sought re-election in each other's position in a double election on the same day as the elections for Osaka's prefectural and city assemblies.

Hirofumi Yoshimura(left) who won the race for governor, and Ichiro Matsui(right) who won the race for mayor both support the Osaka metropolis plan.

Their intentional resignations sparked severe criticism from rival parties like the national ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its partner Komeito's Osaka Prefectural Office. They fielded two candidates against Osaka Ishin. During the campaign, they said the metropolis plan was divisive and could affect the quality of public services.

"The Metropolis plan is simply a worse version of the Tokyo Metropolis government. No concrete figures have been given. To me, it seems they're just hoping the plan will work out, without any specifics on how that will happen." (Akira Yanagimoto, Mayoral candidate )

“Don’t you think it’s time to replace this Ishin administration, which is preoccupied with supporting the Metropolitan Plan? If you elect me, I will be a clear voice of opposition to Ishin's reckless idea.”
(Tadakazu Konishi , Gubernatorial candidate )

Big victories

The results of the election were as follows:

[Osaka gubernatorial election]

Hirofumi Yoshimura: 2,266,103 votes
(Former Mayor, endorsed by Osaka Ishin no Kai)

Tadakazu Konishi: 1,254,200 votes
(Supported by LDP, Komeito's Osaka Prefectural Office, and some supported by Democratic Party For the People's Osaka branches)

[Osaka mayoral election]

Ichiro Matsui : 660,819 votes
(Former Governor, endorsed by Osaka Ishin no Kai)

Akira Yanagimoto: 476,351 votes
(Supported by LDP, Komeito's Osaka Prefectural Office, and some supported by Democratic Party For the People's Osaka branches)

Both of Osaka's races resulted in the victory of the two candidates from Osaka Ishin no Kai.

According to the exit survey conducted by NHK, 58 percent of respondents who voted in the mayoral election approved the Osaka metropolis plan, while 42 percent opposed it.
70 percent of people who voted in the gubernatorial election said that they approve of the administrative management of Osaka Ishin no Kai. This shows that many voters wanted to continue with reforms carried out by the prefectural and city administration led by Ishin.

Challenges ahead

Despite the victory, there are still a number of obstacles that need to be overcome. The metropolis plan needs to be approved by the Osaka Prefectural Assembly and the Osaka City Assembly. The party did win a majority in the prefecture, but fell just two seats shy in the City Assembly. That means it will have to get some opposition members onboard. If it is successful, the plan will then be put to a referendum.

Hirofumi Yoshimura, who was elected governor of Osaka Prefecture said after the win, "During the campaign, I felt many people approved of our efforts and wanted us to push forward with the metropolis plan."

But at the same time, Ichiro Matsui, elected mayor of Osaka, said, "Throughout the election campaign, there were a lot of people who were opposed to the metropolis plan. I would like to talk with them and give them a thorough explanation of its concept."

A lot still needs to be done to realize the metropolis plan.