Yoshikazu Higashitani, a YouTuber-turned-lawmaker, has been expelled from Japan’s upper house for his continuous absence from parliamentary sessions since being elected last year. Higashitani, who also goes by GaaSyy on his popular YouTube account (which has since been suspended), lost his seat after failing to appear in the House of Councilors while residing abroad, angering his colleagues.
The 51-year-old received almost 300,000 votes last July as a member of a single-issue party advocating reforms to NHK, the Japanese public broadcaster. However, he had been living in the United Arab Emirates even before the election and has not returned to Japan since, citing concerns he might be detained by police investigating defamation complaints stemming from the celebrity gossip that propelled him to YouTube stardom.
Last week, GaaSyy said on Instagram that he was in Gaziantep, Turkey, to help with earthquake relief and that it was too early for him to return to Japan. He is currently believed to be back in the U.A.E. city of Dubai.
GaaSyy is the first Japanese lawmaker to be expelled from the legislature in over 70 years and the first to be expelled over an extended period of absence. However, the decision does not bar him from running for office again. The vote was 235 to 1, with the only opposition coming from his sole fellow party member in the chamber, Satoshi Hamada, who had hoped GaaSyy could continue to serve as a member of parliament.
Lawmakers from other parties said it was an easy decision, with Hiroshige Seko, a member of the governing Liberal Democratic Party, stating that despite being given the opportunity to apologize on the floor of the Diet, GaaSyy never responded to it and continued to ignore the opportunity.
Jeff Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University Japan in Tokyo, said the decision made sense from the point of view of taxpayers, who have paid GaaSyy an estimated $149,000 since his election. He added that GaaSyy’s expulsion was not surprising, as he never attended Diet sessions and didn’t represent the disillusioned voters who supported him.
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