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YouTuber elected to Japan's upper house intends to stay overseas, skip August Diet session

The campaign car of Gassy, who ran in the House of Councillors election on the NHK Party ticket, is seen in Tokyo's Shibuya Ward on June 24, 2022. (Mainichi/Kengo Miura)

TOKYO -- A 50-year-old YouTuber living in Dubai who was elected for the first time in the July 10 House of Councillors election has indicated that he does not intend to attend an extraordinary Diet session being convened on Aug. 3.

    Yoshikazu Higashitani, otherwise known as Gassy, is a popular YouTuber who exposes celebrity scandals and ran on the NHK Party ticket in the recent upper house election. He intends to remain in Dubai, claiming that returning to Japan will result in his arrest. House of Councillors members each serve six-year terms. What will happen if Gassy refuses to return to Japan?

    In a video he shared online, he explained, "Police authorities are investigating me on suspicion of fraud, and if I return to Japan, I'll get arrested." His campaigning took place entirely online from Dubai. He gathered over 280,000 votes in the proportional representational bloc, but did not attend a ceremony held on July 15 at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications, where certificates of election were handed to election winners.

    Takashi Tachibana, the head of the NHK party, who attended on his behalf, said that Gassy was still in Dubai, and is not set to join the extraordinary Diet session scheduled between Aug. 3 and 5.

    It is mandatory for both Japan's upper and lower house members to attend Diet sessions. The Diet Act stipulates that lawmakers must show up to the Diet on the day it is convened. If a Diet member fails to show up within seven days without a justifiable reason, and does not comply even after the speaker or president urges them to do so, they will be referred to the disciplinary committee.

    Disciplinary measures include a warning, requiring an apology at a Diet session, suspension of attendance for a certain period, and expulsion. The approval of two-thirds of the members present during a plenary session is necessary to enforce the heaviest penalty of expulsion, which leads to the individual losing their status as lawmaker.

    According to the House of Representatives and the House of Councillors, there have been no instances of a lawmaker being referred to the disciplinary committee on the grounds of nonattendance.

    YouTuber Gassy, right on the computer screen, smiles after it became certain during the predawn hours of July 11, 2022, that he would secure a seat in the House of Councillors election. NHK Party leader Takashi Tachibana is pictured to his left at a venue in Tokyo's Minato Ward. (Mainichi/Yohei Koide)

    In a press conference on July 26, when asked about views on legislators being absent from Diet sessions after being elected overseas, Communications Minister Yasushi Kaneko, who oversees elections, said, "Article 10 of the Public Offices Elections Act does not specify owning an address in Japan as a requirement to run for the upper house." He refrained from commenting about an election winner's activities in the Diet.

    Upper house members are required to gain permission from the chamber if they want to travel overseas while a Diet session is ongoing. If the executive board of the upper house's Administration Oversight Committee does not grant permission, members living abroad must return to Japan.

    In 2013, former pro wrestler and then upper house member Antonio Inoki visited North Korea without the committee's consent, and was subjected to a 30-day suspension from appearing in the Diet.

    While it is unlikely that Gassy's case will be referred to the disciplinary committee for absence from the three-day extraordinary session, it has the potential to become a problem if his absence continues.

    An individual familiar with the House of Councillors pointed out, "In the nearly 80 years of the upper house's history, only one individual has been expelled. It may be difficult to dismiss a member for the sole reason that they do not show up to sessions."

    (Japanese original by Soon Lee and Nozomi Gemma, Political News Department)

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