National / Politics

Parties step up pressure on lawmaker Hodaka Maruyama to quit over Russia war remarks

Kyodo

Ruling and opposition parties submitted a resolution to the Diet on Wednesday, pressing a lawmaker to decide quickly whether to resign over remarks he made about waging war with Russia to regain control of disputed islands.

The resolution against opposition lawmaker Hodaka Maruyama came after the government verified that the remarks were made and that his behavior was problematic when he participated in a visa-free exchange program between Japan and Russia in May.

On a visit to one of four Russian-held islands off Hokkaido, the 35-year-old lawmaker — who had been drinking heavily — asked the leader of a group of former Japanese residents, “Do you think there is any alternative to war (to recover the islands)?”

The resolution is expected to be adopted by the Lower House on Thursday, with ruling and opposition parties seeking unanimous approval. However, the motion is not legally binding so it will remain up to Maruyama to decide whether to quit the House of Representatives.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe criticized Maruyama on Wednesday, saying, “It was extremely regrettable as (his remarks) deeply hurt the feelings of former island residents.”

At a plenary session of the House of Councilors, Abe said the remarks “totally differ from the government’s policy that aims to seek a resolution through diplomatic negotiations.”

But Abe dodged a question about whether Maruyama should resign, saying, “I will refrain from responding to that.”

The government has confirmed Maruyama went to the home of a Russian family on Kunashiri Island, off Hokkaido, on May 11, and drank more than 10 glasses of cognac.

After returning to his lodging, he also made remarks such as “Are those places with neon signs bars? … Are there women?” and “I want to go out to grope breasts.”

When he was stopped by others who tried to prevent him from leaving his lodgings, he said, “I will not be arrested because I am immune from arrest.”

The resolution states that his remarks, which run counter to Japan’s war-renouncing Constitution, were abusive and that his behavior hampered the smooth implementation of the exchange program as well as significantly damaging the national interest.

“We have no choice but to conclude that (Maruyama) is not qualified to be a member of the Diet,” it said.

Maruyama, elected three times from a constituency in Osaka Prefecture, has repeatedly said he will not resign. He has been expelled from Nippon Ishin no Kai.

After opposition parties submitted a joint motion last month urging him to quit, Maruyama told reporters that the Diet, as a place for free speech, was “signing its own death warrant” with the motion.

It is the first time that a resolution pressing a lawmaker to voluntarily resign has been submitted to the Diet, according to the secretariats for both its houses.

The ruling and opposition parties will withdraw documents they had previously submitted separately to the Diet.

Last month, the ruling parties submitted a resolution urging Maruyama to seriously reflect on his remarks. A resolution submitted by six opposition parties demanded his resignation.

Maruyama’s comments caused uproar as the countries are in talks about how to resolve the long-standing territorial dispute over the islands, known in Japan as the Northern Territories and in Russia as the Southern Kurils. The dispute has prevented them from signing a peace treaty to officially end World War II.

Japan maintains that the former Soviet Union seized the islands illegally following Tokyo’s 1945 surrender in the war, while Russia says it had a legitimate right to them in the wake of the conflict.

Abe, who has made the return of the islands one of his top priorities, is seeking a breakthrough in talks with President Vladimir Putin.

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