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LDP lawmaker steps down from Constitution commission over Obama comments

Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Kazuya Maruyama speaks to reporters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward, on Feb. 18, 2016. (Mainichi)

A lawmaker from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) resigned from his position as a member of the House of Councillors Commission on the Constitution on Feb. 18 over his remarks about U.S. President Barack Obama being a descendent of slaves, yet another gaffe by LDP legislators amid desperate efforts by the party leadership to whip its members into shape.

LDP upper house legislator Kazuya Maruyama said of President Obama during a Feb. 17 meeting of the Commission on the Constitution, "A black person is the current U.S. president, who is of black origin. That means slaves." His remarks sparked criticism from both ruling and opposition parties.

LDP Secretary-General Sadakazu Tanigaki warned Maruyama on Feb. 18, telling him to watch what he says to avoid tripping himself. On the same day, Maruyama missed a meeting of the party's Judicial Affairs Division, where he serves as director, due to a "scheduling conflict," according to a source related to the division.

Meanwhile, Maruyama spoke to reporters on Feb. 18, saying, "It is extremely disappointing if my comment was taken as racism, which is the opposite of what I meant. I respect Martin Luther King Jr."

In regard to the resolution calling for Maruyama's resignation as a lawmaker submitted jointly by the opposition Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ), Social Democratic Party and the People's Life Party to the upper house, Maruyama remained confident, saying, "I am not ashamed of what I said in good conscience. I will accept the challenge."

Recently, there has been a series of controversial remarks and blunders by LDP lawmakers. Environment Minister Tamayo Marukawa came under fire after making a comment in which she denied scientific evidence for the government's long-term goal of lowering the annual additional radiation exposure dose to 1 millisievert or less in decontamination work for the Fukushima nuclear disaster. She retracted the remarks on Feb. 12.

Aiko Shimajiri, state minister for Okinawa and Northern Territories affairs, was rapped for not knowing the name of the Island of Habomai, one of four Northern Territories off Hokkaido. She could not read the Chinese characters for the island's name at a news conference in early February.

Furthermore, LDP lawmaker Yasumasa Nagasaka accused a DPJ member of restricting free speech during a Feb. 18 House of Representatives Budget Committee session after the opposition legislator raised questions about Maruyama's comment. Diet Affairs Committee Acting Chairman Hachiro Okonogi subsequently warned Nagasaka about making such jeers.

The LDP had just held a meeting on Feb. 17 with executive secretaries from each faction to call for caution over lawmakers' remarks and actions.

The head of one of the LDP factions said on Feb. 18, "After many people were elected and the LDP became the only strong party within the Diet some lawmakers may want to stand out." Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida reminded his faction members at a meeting that the media will now be watching politicians more critically.

Yoshio Urushibara, chairman of Komeito's central secretariat, expressed disappointment with its coalition partner LDP at a Feb. 18 news conference, saying, "A series of these things could become a body blow to the government."

A senior Komeito lawmaker commented, "Our supporters might turn their criticism on us for not being able to stop the LDP."

As rumors are circulating that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe might be seeking a double election for both houses of the Diet this summer, some ruling coalition members have started voicing concern about the negative impact of the LDP lawmakers' controversial comments on the timing of a lower house election.

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