A YouTuber-turned-legislator was expelled from Japan’s upper house of parliament on Wednesday after his consistent absence from parliamentary sessions since his election last year.
Yoshikazu Higashitani, who also goes by GaaSyy including on his popular YouTube account which has since been suspended, lost his seat after he failed to appear on the House of Councilors while living abroad, much to the anger of his colleagues.
The 51-year-old garnered nearly 300,000 votes last July campaigning for Japan’s parliament, as a member of a single-issue party calling for reforms at the Japanese public broadcaster. He was living in the United Arab Emirates even before the election and has not returned to Japan since, citing fears he might be detained by police investigating defamation complaints stemming from celebrity gossip that catapulted him to YouTube stardom.
Last week, GaaSyy he said on Instagram that he was in Gaziantep, Turkey, to help with earthquake relief and that it was too early to return to Japan. It is believed that he is currently back in the city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
He is the first Japanese lawmaker to be expelled from the legislature in over 70 years and the first to be expelled for an extended period of absence. The decision does not prevent him from running for office again.
The vote was 235 to 1, with the only opposition coming from his only fellow party member in the chamber.
Representative Satoshi Hamada said he hoped GaaSyy would continue to serve as a member of parliament.
“I would like to apologize to Congressman Gacy and everyone who voted for him,” Hamada told reporters after the vote.
GaaSyy party chairwoman Ayaka Ohtsu said she was “disappointed” with the decision and that GaaSyy could have carried out its duties remotely on behalf of its constituents, some of whom protested outside parliament on Wednesday.
“I think those of the close to 300,000 people who voted for GaaSyy know that it will operate from abroad,” she said at a press conference in Tokyo.
Lawmakers from other parties said it was an easy call.
“Although he was given the opportunity to apologize in front of parliament, he never responded to it and kept ignoring the opportunity,” said Hiroshige Seko, a member of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party.
The decision makes sense from the point of view of taxpayers, who have paid GaaSyy an estimated $149,000 since his election, said Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan in Tokyo.
“His expulsion is not surprising because he did not attend the Diet sessions and did not represent the disappointed voters who supported him,” he said in an email. “Not showing up is not the same as changing policy as usual.”
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