Photo/Illutration Voters listen to a speech by a candidate in the Osaka mayoral election in Osaka on March 26. (Tatsuo Kanai)

Both ruling and opposition parties are teaming up to oust a local party from the mayor’s seat in Osaka, one of six ordinance-designated cities whose mayoral election campaigns started on March 26.

The six elections, in Sapporo, Sagamihara, Shizuoka, Hamamatsu, Osaka and Hiroshima, will be held on April 9 as part of the unified local elections nationwide.

A total of 21 candidates are running in the mayoral elections.

In Osaka, five candidates for mayor will battle over such issues as hosting “integrated resorts,” including casinos, a plan pushed by the Osaka prefectural government and Osaka city government.

However, the contest is already seen as a head-to-head race between Hideyuki Yokoyama, the candidate of Osaka-based local party Osaka Ishin no Kai, and Taeko Kitano, an independent backed by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan.

Ichiro Matsui, the incumbent Osaka mayor who has announced his retirement from politics, and Osaka Governor Hirofumi Yoshimura are both senior members of Osaka Ishin.

Yokoyama, 41, started his election campaign on the streets of Osaka on the morning of March 26, sandwiched between Matsui and party leader Yoshimura.

In his first campaign speech, Yokoyama declared he would continue Matsui’s policies to prevent the city from sliding back to “unacceptable” conditions.

“Osaka will return to its former state unless we continue the unified growth strategies and financial reforms of Osaka Prefecture and Osaka city,” Yokoyama said.

Although Yokoyama has served as a member of the Osaka prefectural assembly, this is his first attempt to win the mayor’s post.

Matsui’s retirement from politics represents a significant turning point for Osaka Ishin, which lacks well-known names as his possible successor.

Osaka Ishin held a rare inter-party vote to select the mayoral candidate in an attempt to raise the profile of its contender.

The party’s strategy for the mayoral election is to have Yokoyama campaign together with the better-known Yoshimura, who is seeking re-election as Osaka governor also on April 9.

Kitano, 63, who is also new to the Osaka mayoral election, started her campaign on March 26 with severe criticism against Osaka Ishin and its slogan, “Don’t stop growth.”

“Osaka hasn’t grown,” she said in her campaign speech.

Kitano said Osaka Ishin has practiced “mass hypnosis” on the people of Osaka with its slogan.

The LDP and CDP were dealt a significant defeat by Osaka Ishin in the past “double elections” for Osaka governor and Osaka mayor. The two losing parties were criticized as fighting together just to win elections despite their differences in policies.

Because of this experience, both parties will only support Kitano “behind the scenes.” They will also let their lawmakers decide whether or not to support Kitano in the election.

Kitano was an Osaka city assembly member of the LDP’s local chapter, but she left the party to stand in the mayoral election.

The Japanese Communist Party also decided not to field a candidate in the election, hoping to consolidate the non-Ishin forces.

In Hiroshima, the election issues include the incumbent mayor’s peace programs ahead of the G-7 summit that will be held in the city in May.

The three-term incumbent is challenged by a Japanese Community Party candidate and an independent contender.

In Sapporo, the most significant issue in the mayoral election is whether the Hokkaido capital should bid to host the 2030 Winter Olympics.

Incumbent Katsuhiro Akimoto, who is aiming for his third term, argues that the city should bid for the event.

But the other two candidates maintain that the city should not, citing the costs and the bribery scandals from the Tokyo Olympics held in 2021.