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Friday, Sept. 17, 2010
Osaka governor woos away 40 LDP members
OSAKA — In a political move with possible national repercussions, Osaka Gov. Toru Hashimoto has announced that his political party, One Osaka (Osaka Ishin-no Kai), will field 82 candidates, including 40 ex-Liberal Democratic Party members, in local elections next spring 2011.
"Next year's elections will be an epic battle comparable to the Meiji Restoration's abolition of the feudal clan system and the establishment of the prefectural system," Hashimoto said at a party Wednesday evening for candidates and supporters.
The announcement is expected to fundamentally alter the local political scene no matter how many One Osaka members win.
The LDP chapter in Osaka Prefectural recommended Thursday that the 40 LDP members who decided Wednesday to become One Osaka candidates be expelled from the party, as per their wishes, further weakening the party that had already seen many members bolt for Hashimoto's new group.
One Osaka now has 29 seats in the 112-seat prefectural assembly, making it the largest single force, but still far short of the majority it needs to enact the reforms Hashimoto wants, which include relocating the prefectural government to the Osaka Bay area and formally demanding that the central government close Itami airport.
The party also has 13 representatives in the 88-seat Osaka Municipal Assembly and seven members in the 52-seat in Sakai Municipal Assembly.
One Osaka's growth has attracted national attention.
While insisting the party is concerned primarily with issues of local government reform, not national policy, Hashimoto has been in talks with Your Party, which won 10 seats in the Upper House election in July and shares many of One Osaka's policy goals for local government.
Yoshinori Kita, a spokesman for One Osaka, said there have been no agreements for a formal tieup between the two parties. Many One Osaka members, however, see Your Party as a natural ally in next spring's local elections and the next Lower House election, which must be held by 2013. The two parties are now discussing how they might support each other.
One Osaka was established by the popular Hashimoto to support area politicians who back his fiscal and bureaucratic reform plans, including the integration of the city of Osaka into Osaka Prefecture, and eventually the abolition of prefectures and the creation of a Kansai super state.
One Osaka is also pushing for Osaka to become a major hub for Asian trade, and for increased spending on local roads, bridges and airports to be competitive with other major urban regions in East Asia.
The party's reform goals and plans to integrate Osaka city and prefecture have long been advocated by the Kansai Economic Federation and Osaka-based LDP Diet members such as former Foreign Minister Taro Nakayama, who before losing his seat in the Lower House election last summer was known as the king of Osaka's public works projects.
Nakayama, along with former Economic Planning Agency head Taichi Sakaiya — who is from Osaka — are Hashimoto's most influential political supporters and advisers.
Sakaiya, who spoke briefly at Wednesday's gathering, is a strong supporter of and informal adviser to Your Party leader Watanabe and helped arrange the first meeting between Hashimoto and Watanabe.
"Sakaiya in particular has been greatly influential in shaping Hashimoto's views about reforming the local bureaucracy," said Motoyuki Okino, an Osaka-based freelance journalist.