Photo/IllutrationOsaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, third from left, also the head of a regional political party Osaka Ishin no Kai, speaks in a news conference in Osaka on May 25. Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura, second from left, and Lower House lawmaker Shigeki Sato, fourth from left, who heads the Osaka prefectural chapter of Komeito, also attended the meeting. (Takaharu Yagi)

OSAKA--Regional party Osaka Ishin no Kai and the Osaka prefectural chapter of Komeito have agreed to support a referendum on dividing Osaka city into special wards like in Tokyo.

The agreement, asking voters to approve the so-called “Osaka metropolis plan,” was announced at a news conference in Osaka on May 25. They plan to hold the referendum in autumn or winter 2020.

Under the plan, the Osaka prefectural government would be in charge of wide-ranging issues, such as construction and improvement of infrastructure, and working out regional economic growth strategies.

Special ward governments would be involved in issues closer to residents, such as welfare and education.

The metropolis plan was advocated in 2010 by then Osaka Governor Toru Hashimoto, who was also the Osaka Ishin leader, to eliminate wasteful spending of both the prefectural government and the Osaka city government.

However, other parties, including the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito, opposed the plan, saying that the division of Osaka city could lower the quality of services for residents.

Despite the opposition, a referendum was called in Osaka city in May 2015. The proposal was shot down with 705,585 voters opposing the metropolis plan, exceeding the number of support votes by 10,741. The defeat led Hashimoto to announce his retirement from politics.

Komeito, which has opposed holding a second referendum since then, changed its stance earlier this month. On May 25, Osaka Ishin held talks with the Osaka prefectural chapter of Komeito.

The executives from Ishin included Osaka Mayor Ichiro Matsui, the current Osaka Ishin leader, and Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura. Officials from Komeito included Lower House lawmaker Shigeki Sato, who also heads the prefectural chapter.

After the talks, Matsui said in a news conference, “We want to create an Osaka that can expand its services for residents as a metropolis system that is better than that of Tokyo.”

Sato also said, “We were able to reach an agreement that we will cooperate to put forward the reform of Osaka.”

Komeito’s change of stance was attributable to the results of the Osaka gubernatorial election, the Osaka mayoral election and a Lower House by-election for the Osaka No. 12 constituency, all of which were held in April.

In the three elections, candidates backed by Komeito lost to those supported by Osaka Ishin.

In addition, a belief is emerging that a Lower House election will be held simultaneously with the Upper House election this summer. In response, Osaka Ishin suggested that it will field candidates in all six Lower House single-seat constituencies in the Kansai region in and around Osaka in which Komeito currently has seats.

Komeito's change of heart apparently came earlier this month to avoid further confrontation with Osaka Ishin.

“We will place importance on the public will (shown in the elections),” Sato said at that time.

Ishin obtained a majority in the Osaka prefectural assembly election in April but failed to do so in the Osaka city assembly election, also held in the same month.

With cooperation from Komeito, however, the two parties constitute a majority in the city assembly, making it possible to call the referendum.