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Tuesday, Nov. 20, 2007

Hiramatsu's win in Osaka mayoral race boosts DPJ


Staff writer

OSAKA — Kunio Hiramatsu, who beat incumbent Junichi Seki in Sunday's mayoral poll in what is seen as a stunning defeat for the ruling coalition, vowed to reform the city government but offered no specific steps to remedy the city's ballooning debts.

News photo
Kunio Hiramatsu, elected mayor of Osaka on Sunday, receives a certificate of victory from a member of the election administration commission at City Hall on Monday. KYODO PHOTO

"A new Osaka has been born," Hiramatsu, 59, who was backed by the Democratic Party of Japan, told reporters Monday morning. Later in the day, he received a certificate of his victory at City Hall.

He will be officially sworn in Dec. 19.

Osaka voters chose relative youth and a fresh start over age and experience by electing the former television celebrity. The 72-year-old Seki, backed by the Liberal Democratic Party-New Komeito ruling bloc, was seeking his third term.

Voter turnout stood at 43.61 percent, the highest rate since 1971 and almost 10 percentage points higher than the last election.

Hiramatsu is totally new to municipal administration and politics.

Among other problems, he has to work out specific policy steps to deal with the city's soaring debts. As of the end of fiscal 2006, Osaka had more than ¥5 trillion in debts.

Unless the city mends its finances, it could be forced to declare effective bankruptcy and place itself under central government rehabilitation procedures.

Building trust with business leaders in the Kansai region and seeking their cooperation will be key as Hiramatsu pursues economic reforms.

On the political front, the city assembly is still dominated by the LDP and New Komeito, putting Hiramatsu's policies on a likely collision course.

His victory, however, is expected to increase calls by the opposition camp to dissolve the Lower House.

The Osaka election was the first since the DPJ-led opposition camp captured the Upper House in July and was considered a key indicator of whether voters elsewhere might back the opposition if Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, the LDP president, were to dissolve the Lower House.

In recent weeks, senior officials from both the ruling and opposition camps traveled regularly to Osaka to campaign on behalf of their candidates, an unprecedented action for a local election.

Ruling party officials were especially disappointed that there was no voter backlash against DPJ President Ichiro Ozawa's recent offer to resign after his party's executives refused to sign on to the notion of the DPJ joining in a grand alliance with the ruling bloc — a proposal that sprang from talks he had with Fukuda earlier this month.

More worrisome for the ruling bloc, however, is that media exit polls showed New Komeito and its main backer, Soka Gakkai, which has traditionally been quite powerful in local politics, failed to gather enough votes to overcome a revived DPJ voter base.

Some media polls showed nearly a quarter of LDP-registered voters and about half of unaffiliated voters chose Hiramatsu over Seki, a major factor in the election and a hint that New Komeito's influence may be waning.

Information from Kyodo added



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