How to Get Kicked Out of Parliament: Livestream Instead of Legislating
Since he was elected to Japan’s Parliament in July, Yoshikazu Higashitani has spread celebrity gossip on his YouTube channel, explored the sights of Dubai and handed out snacks to children displaced by an earthquake in Turkey.
One thing he has not done is show up for work.
On Wednesday, he was expelled from Japan’s upper house of Parliament, the House of Councillors, making him the first elected lawmaker in the country to be removed from office in more than seven decades.
Before his short-lived career as a lawmaker, Mr. Higashitani, 51, was well-known for his lengthy livestreams during which he dished out salacious celebrity gossip under the alias “GaaSyy.” He ran for Parliament from Dubai, claiming that he could not return to Japan because the police were investigating him for fraud. While in self-imposed exile, he campaigned and promised to expose dozens of celebrity scandals.
To the surprise of many, he won — running as the candidate of the single-issue NHK Party, which is dedicated to making changes to how Japan’s national broadcaster is funded. But he has missed every session in the House of Councillors since then.
In the meantime, he has maintained diverse interests, balancing his lengthy rants about celebrities with breezy posts about touring La Sagrada Familia in Spain and playing water sports in Thailand, using the hashtag “#endlesssummer.”Last week, he said he traveled to Turkey, and in videos posted online was seen distributing snacks to children in areas devastated by a February earthquake, in front of a camera crew.
The founder of the NHK Party, Takashi Tachibana, told reporters in January that the police had asked Mr. Higashitani, a fellow party member, to cooperate with investigations related to accusations of defamatory comments and threats he had made in his videos, and that the YouTuber would return to the country in March. (The police declined to comment.)
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In February, the House of Councillors demanded that Mr. Higashitani apologize in an open session, a disciplinary act second only to expulsion. He had agreed to do so, only to backtrack on that decision last week, saying that he did not feel safe enough to return, despite having immunity from arrest as a lawmaker.
Mr. Tachibana said last Wednesday that he would step down as head of the party. “As party leader, I will take responsibility for GaaSyy’s failure to keep his promise that he would come back to the upper house to make an apology,” Mr. Tachibana said at a news conference.
He added that the party would be renamed “Seijika Joshi 48 To,” which translates to Politician Girls 48 Party, and that the actress Ayaka Otsu would replace him. Mr. Tachibana said that the party would broaden its goals and would also recruit only female candidates to run for upcoming local elections.
“The NHK party, despite rebranding, has achieved little except to register discontent with the Establishment and unhappiness with the mandatory fees every household has to pay, even if they don’t watch NHK,” Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian studies at Temple University’s Japan campus, wrote in an email. He added that Mr. Higashitani had been elected in the first place because he seemed to provide an inspiring alternative to voters who were fed up with politicians.
“He thought that not showing up was the same as shaking up Japanese politics,” Professor Kingston said. “He betrayed the disaffected voters who expected more of him and wanted to believe that change might be possible.”
Muneo Suzuki, who heads a key disciplinary committee in Parliament, told reporters on Tuesday that Mr. Higashitani had already been given ample time to correct his behavior, but that he had ultimately undermined the electoral process. “GaaSyy doesn’t understand what democracy means in principle,” he said.
Dozens of protesters, mostly members of the Seijika Joshi 48 Party, protested in front of the legislature before lawmakers cast votes over whether to expel Mr. Higashitani. Among the 236 lawmakers who attended the session, all but one voted in favor of his ouster.
Mr. Higashitani could not be immediately reached for comment, but in a statement read on the House floor by Satoshi Hamada, a fellow lawmaker, Mr. Higashitani said that his removal was unjust.
“There will continue to be people like me running for office. If you do not want the world you have made to be destroyed, please exclude those people from candidacy from the very beginning,” he wrote in the statement. “I wish the same punishment upon lawmakers who leave their seats immediately after propping up their nameplates and ones who are asleep and don’t show up like myself.”