A YouTuber-turned-lawmaker was expelled from Japan's upper house on Wednesday for not attending any parliamentary sessions since being elected last year, making him the first member of the Diet to be removed in more than seven decades.
The expulsion of Yoshikazu Higashitani, who goes by the name GaaSyy, is the most serious reprimand of four levels under the national Diet law. He lost his status as a lawmaker while abroad.
GaaSyy, a member of a small single-issue party, was last week given a chance to apologize in a House of Councillors plenary session -- the third-strictest punishment available. But he did not do so in person, having previously sent a video apology which was not accepted.
As a result, Hidehisa Otsuji, president of the upper house, brought up GaaSyy's behavior at the disciplinary committee again for "disturbing the order" in parliament.
There were only two previous cases of expulsion from parliament under the current Constitution that took effect in 1947. GaaSyy became the first member of parliament to be expelled since 1951 and the first to be reprimanded for being absent.
Of the 236 upper house members who joined the plenary session on Wednesday, 235 voted in favor of GaaSyy's expulsion, with only his lone fellow party member in the chamber opposing.
Hiroshige Seko, secretary general of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of the House of Councillors, told reporters almost all political groups expressed the will of the chamber to censure GaaSyy.
Masayo Tanabu, a senior member of the leading opposition Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, said it was a "matter of course" that GaaSyy was expelled as he lacked an awareness of representing the public as stipulated by the Constitution.
GaaSyy has lived in the United Arab Emirates since before the upper house election in July 2022, in which he won his seat.
He has been criticized for collecting more than 19 million yen ($140,000) in salary and bonuses since being elected to parliament despite never attending.
GaaSyy had initially voiced eagerness to return home to offer an apology, but he eventually visited quake-hit Turkey last week instead of traveling to Japan.
He has claimed that he has remained overseas for fear of being "maliciously detained" due to a "false criminal complaint," although Japan's Constitution provides that parliamentary members are "exempt from apprehension while the Diet is in session."
Ahead of the upper house election last year, GaaSyy came into the spotlight for posting about gossip and allegations of scandals involving celebrities on his YouTube channel.
He was elected to the Diet under the proportional representation system, in which seats are distributed in accordance with the total votes cast for each political party and its candidates.
GaaSyy, a member of the Seijikajoshi48 Party, which roughly translates as politician girls 48 party, is alleged to have swindled money from multiple people by telling them that he would give them an opportunity to meet members of the popular K-pop boy band BTS.
The small opposition party recently changed its name from the NHK Party. It came to prominence through its criticism of Japan's public broadcaster.
In December, Japanese police asked GaaSyy to undergo voluntary questioning on suspicion of defamation and extortion in connection with his YouTube posts, according to investigative sources.
The police searched several locations linked to him over the allegations in January.