Photo/IllutrationHodaka Maruyama speaks to reporters in the Diet on May 20. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Lower House should demonstrate its commitment to the national creed by uniting to punish a member who has made outrageous remarks that make a mockery of pacifism as a cardinal principle of the Constitution.

The Lower House, as the more powerful chamber of the Diet, the highest organ of state power, should act in unity in responding to Hodaka Maruyama’s recent remarks suggesting that Japan wage war against Russia to regain the Northern Territories.

The 35-year-old Lower House member has already been expelled from Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party), but the chamber should take its own disciplinary action against him over the remarks that indicate a lack of understanding of the Constitutional pacifism and that engaging in war to settle international disputes violates international law.

Six opposition parties including Nippon Ishin have jointly submitted a resolution to the Lower House formally advising Maruyama to resign, while the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner, Komeito, have introduced a resolution to rebuke him designed to call on him to bow out on his own.

Both the ruling and opposition camps say such a resolution should be adopted unanimously, and talks are under way to discuss the issue between the two sides.

If an agreement is not reached, both resolutions could end up dying on the vine.

The Diet has consistently been cautious about adopting a resolution advising a member to resign from the legislature. The resolutions of this kind that were adopted in the past were limited to cases where lawmakers have been arrested or indicted in corruption scandals.

Maruyama has criticized the move to submit such a resolution in response to a legislator’s remarks as “a threat to the freedom of speech” and vowed to remain in his job even if one is adopted.

But he made the comment about going to war with Russia during an exchange program on Kunashiri, one of the disputed Northern Territories, which were seized by Soviet troops in the waning days of World War II. The exchange program dates to 1992 and is based on an agreement between Japan and Russia to allow visa-exempt visits to the islands by the former residents.

During a gathering, Maruyama, who was drunk at the time, approached Koyata Otsuka, the head of the delegation of former islanders and family members, and asked him, “Are you in favor of or opposed to going to war to take back this island?”

Maruyama’s words trampled on the feelings of people who were robbed of their homes by the war and ran counter to the spirit of the goodwill program, aimed at building mutual trust between the two nations for settling the territorial dispute.

In addition to the absurdity of what he said, his drunken state when he made the remarks makes the question of freedom of speech moot.

There is no doubt that Maruyama is not fit for his job and should resign from his seat.

While the two resolutions differ on whether the Lower House should directly demand his departure, both are based on the shared recognition that his remarks have contravened Japan’s pacifism and undermined the Diet’s authority and dignity.

Both camps should meet halfway to clearly express the Lower House’s position.

Explaining its decision to avoid going beyond the act of rebuking, the ruling coalition has said the Diet should tread cautiously in taking any action that concerns the status of a Diet member.

Indeed, the status of Diet members, as the elected representatives of the people, carries huge weight. The majority group should never be allowed to abuse this measure by using its strength in the Diet.

If, however, the ruling coalition is avoiding the action out of concerns that it could boomerang on its own members, the alliance should be criticized for putting its political interests before a vital principle.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration has its own share of senior officials who have been forced to resign over controversial remarks.

Former Olympics minster Yoshitaka Sakurada, for example, resigned in April after arousing the ire of communities affected by the 2011 earthquake and tsunami by saying in a fund-raising party for a fellow Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker from Iwate Prefecture that supporting the lawmaker is “more important than the reconstruction (of disaster-stricken areas).”

Ichiro Tsukada also resigned, in April, as vice land minister after saying he had upgraded a local road project for the constituencies of Abe and Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso as an unrequested favor for them.

Aso, who has remained in his current post since Abe came back to power, himself has a history of making controversial comments.

Discussing a strategy for revising the Constitution, Aso once suggested Japan should learn from how the Nazis changed Germany’s Constitution by stealth before World War II, saying the move should be made quietly “just as in one day the Weimar Constitution changed to the Nazi Constitution without anyone realizing it.”

All lawmakers need to take stock of themselves. That should mean the Lower House needs to make a clear, strong response to Maruyama’s “war” remarks.

--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23