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Campaigning starts for 2nd referendum on Osaka metropolis plan

About 7,000 journalists are registered to cover the summit, a senior Foreign Ministry official said, and the city of Osaka is on unprecedented security lockdown with extensive roadblocks. PHOTO: AFP. Sketched by the Pan Pacific Agency.

OSAKA, Oct 12, 2020, Kyodo. Campaigning began Monday for a Nov 1 referendum on whether Osaka should become a metropolis akin to Tokyo in 2025. Some 2.24 million voters in the city are eligible to take part in what will be a second plebiscite on the Osaka metropolis plan. A similar plan was voted down in 2015 by a slim margin, Japan Today reported.

Proponents say such a measure will lead to cost-effective governance by eliminating duplication of work between the Osaka prefectural and city governments. Opponents, however, argue the coronavirus crisis should be prioritized over the referendum.

A majority vote is required to approve the plan, regardless of turn-out, and it will be legally binding.

Backed by Osaka Gov. Hirofumi Yoshimura and Mayor Ichiro Matsui, the initiative calls for the restructuring of Osaka city’s 24 administrative districts into four special wards with greater authority and elected leaders. Tokyo is arranged similarly with 23 special wards.

“After having persistently argued for the elimination of the overlapping of administrative work, this day has finally arrived,” Yoshimura said in a stump speech in the entertainment district of Namba in Osaka.

Matsui, who heads the Japan Innovation Party and the regional political group Osaka Ishin no Kai, urged the public to vote for the plan, saying that the city’s economy has grown since Toru Hashimoto, a former governor and mayor of Osaka, first advocated the plan in 2010.

The Osaka metropolis plan is the signature policy of Osaka Ishin no Kai. Komeito, the ruling coalition partner of the Liberal Democratic Party, also backs the plan.

If the plan is voted down again, Matsui has said he will retire from politics after completing his term as mayor through April 2023.

According to the plan, the special wards will be given responsibility for providing services such as education and welfare, while Osaka Prefecture will be in charge of broad-based strategies such as economic growth, tourism and infrastructure maintenance.

Proponents argue that it will reduce the city’s annual expenditure and lead to economic growth by eliminating functional overlaps between the prefectural and city governments.

Opponents, including the LDP and the Japanese Communist Party, argue such a change will deliver a hit to the area’s coffers, will worsen services for residents and will be an impediment to disaster prevention efforts.

“Can we really abolish Osaka city? If it becomes a metropolis, the level of services to residents will fall,” said Taeko Kitano, a senior LDP member of the Osaka city assembly.

Separately, Tomoko Yamanaka, a senior Communist Party member of the assembly, also expressed opposition to the plan in a speech before the Osaka city government.

Residents’ opinions were split on the plan.

“Change is necessary for Osaka. If the metropolis plan is realized, Osaka will become even more attractive,” said Etsuhiro Kasano, an 84-year-old from the city’s Kita Ward.

“Policy implementation will be enhanced,” said a 36-year-old self-employed man who cast a yes vote five years ago.

But a 72-year-old from Chuo Ward voiced worries that the quality of services for residents would decline.

Concern about the coronavirus pandemic may affect the votes, as residents like Mayumi Nishioka, the mother of infant twins, said she had no intention of going to the polls out of fear of being infected by the virus.

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