Controversial Japan mayor to seek new mandate

TOKYO - The controversial mayor of Japan's second city of Osaka said Monday he is resigning to seek re-election in a bid to prove he has public support for his plans to reform local government.

Toru Hashimoto, who caused an international stir last year when he said women forced into sexual slavery by Japan's imperial army served a "necessary" purpose, said he wanted to face the voters.

"I am stepping down from the mayoral post, and I will run in a fresh mayoral election," he said at a press conference in Osaka.

Hashimoto, who doubles as co-head of the Japan Restoration Party, has long championed a plan to merge the prefectural and municipal governments of Osaka, claiming it would cut out unnecessary layers of bureaucracy.

But a panel made up of representatives of the Osaka prefectural government and Osaka municipal government on Friday rejected plans to speed up the integration, prompting his decision to go over their heads to the electorate.

"If it is the will of voters, I will leave the world of politics without hesitation," Hashimoto told a party convention at the weekend, adding that a renewal of his mandate would prove the public was behind the plan.

Rivals have dismissed the move as self-indulgent and said they have no intention of fielding candidates.

"It is a ridiculous scheme to call an election just because the discussion is not going the way he wants it to," the Yomiuri Shimbun daily quoted a senior member of the New Komeito party as saying. "He is like a child screaming."

Even if Hashimoto is re-elected, there will be no legal avenue for pushing through his plan, although commentators say he would likely argue he had public opinion on his side.