OSAKA--Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto’s regional party lost its majority in the prefectural assembly after expelling four members for “rebelling” against the proposed sale of a railway operator to a U.S. investment fund.
The votes of the ousted Osaka Ishin no Kai members were the difference in the assembly’s vote Dec. 16 that blocked sales of the Osaka prefectural government’s shares in Osaka Prefectural Urban Development Co. (OTK), operator of the Semboku Rapid Railway, to Lone Star Funds.
“They acted in a selfish manner,” said Ichiro Matsui, secretary-general of Osaka Ishin no Kai, who is also Osaka governor. “We will not be able to work together as a team.”
Hashimoto’s party had held a majority in the assembly since the April 2011 election. It now occupies 51 of the 105 assembly seats. Four seats remain vacant.
The loss is the latest blow for Hashimoto, a “maverick” politician who quickly rose to national prominence but whose popularity plummeted this year.
The stock sales plan was initiated by Hashimoto when he served as Osaka governor. Osaka Ishin no Kai naturally decided to support the sales package in the assembly session.
If the momentum continues against Hashimoto, he could face difficulties in his plan to turn the Osaka prefectural government into a larger metropolitan entity by integrating the cities of Osaka and Sakai. Hashimoto’s new struggles on the local level could also have an adverse effect on the Japan Restoration Party, a national party that he co-leads with Shintaro Ishihara.
Osaka Ishin no Kai’s candidate was defeated in the Sakai mayoral election in September, after Hashimoto caused an international uproar by saying the wartime “comfort women” system was necessary for Japanese troops.
The Osaka prefectural government, which owns 49 percent of shares in OTK, decided to sell the stock, as well as shares held by the private sector, for 78.1 billion yen ($757 million) to Lone Star Funds to privatize the company.
But local municipalities along the Semboku Rapid Railway that runs in the southern part of the prefecture opposed the sales plan because a different railway operator offered to buy the OTK shares and promised to reduce fares more drastically than Lone Star Funds.
The municipal governments also raised doubts that a foreign investment fund would be able to properly operate the Semboku Rapid Railway.
“We have pledged to the people living along the railroad that we will achieve a reduction in fares,” said Hiroaki Mitsugi, one of the four ousted Osaka Ishin no Kai members. “The current sales proposal is far from our promise.”
The vote at the prefectural assembly’s plenary session on Dec. 16 was 53 against the plan and 51 in favor.
The four dismissed Osaka Ishin no Kai politicians, members of New Komeito, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Japan and the Japanese Communist Party and others voted against the proposal.
Those who cast ballots in favor were politicians of Osaka Ishin no Kai and Your Party.
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