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Tuesday, Oct. 18, 2005

Osaka's scandal-hit mayor to resign, run again in snap poll


Staff writer

OSAKA -- Osaka Mayor Junichi Seki announced Monday he will resign his post and then run again in a snap election that he said will determine voter faith in his proposed reforms.

News photo
Osaka mayor Junichi Seki is surrounded by reporters as he leaves his office in City Hall on Monday morning.

His resignation was to take effect Tuesday. The election is expected for late November.

"Since being elected nearly two years ago, I've worked hard for reform," Seki said later. "But given the various financial scandals of late, and the bankruptcy of several city-funded projects, my own responsibility is clear. To carry out further reform, the will of the people is necessary."

His decision to resign comes after nearly nine months of financial scandals involving illegal payments to city bureaucrats and illegal pension payments to numerous officials, including former Osaka Mayor Takafumi Isomura.

It also comes at a time when Osaka's cumulative debt, mostly in city-issued bonds, is more than 5 trillion, yen leaving the city all but bankrupt.

Seki, a former vice mayor, won the top post in November 2003 after the city's business community and ruling parties withdrew their support for Isomura. He won accolades from business leaders for his campaign promise to reform the city's bureaucracy.

His appointment of the popular Mitsuyo Ohira, a former juvenile delinquent-turned-lawyer and best-selling author, as vice mayor helped earn him a reputation as a reformer.

Ohira also resigned Monday and is not expected to be reappointed even if Seki wins re-election.

After a promising start, Seki ran into trouble earlier this year over a series of financial scandals involving tax money being used for, among other things, a special payment for some city officials to purchase suits.

It was also learned that city bureaucrats were paid 120 million yen between 2001 and 2004 for overtime they never performed.

Late last month, Seki presented a series of proposals calling for cutting the number of city workers by more than 5,000 people and trimming 225 billion yen from the budget over a five-year period.

While welcomed by business, the proposals met with stiff resistance among civil servants and members of the city council, who criticized the proposals as reflecting the desires of a few people in the private sector.

Seki apparently didn't have the necessary votes on the city council to get the reform proposals passed, which led him to resign to take the issue directly to the electorate.

In the upcoming campaign, Seki's opponents are expected to press him further about his knowledge of the illegal overtime and pension payments during his time as vice mayor.

On Sept. 28, in response to questioning in City Hall over the payments, Seki admitted he should have done more when he was vice mayor.

He faced criticism Monday that he was mimicking the tactics of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in calling for an election to decide the fate of his reform proposals, a charge he denied.

"I'm not copying the prime minister. These are important issues, and if I can regain the trust of the people (through being re-elected) I will carry out my reforms," he said.

People in Osaka were divided over the announcement of the resignation and his decision to run again.

"Seki has been a good mayor and is far more concerned about ordinary Osakans than his predecessor. I plan to vote for him again because his reforms are desperately needed," said Ichiro Moriyama, a 56-year-old man who works for a print shop in central Osaka.

"Seki himself was a vice mayor under the previous mayor, so he's part of the problem. It's strange that after all of those years of staying silent, he now wants reform. I think an outsider is now needed as mayor," said Asami Fujii, a 39-year-old health care worker in the Umeda district.



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