Aso, Tanigaki also balk on female reign

LDP chorus against succession bill grows

by Reiji Yoshida

Senior Cabinet ministers Friday joined growing voices within the Liberal Democratic Party expressing concern over a government-sponsored bill to allow females and their descendants to ascend to the Imperial throne.

“Is this a bill we have to desperately push for during (this) ordinary Diet session?” asked Foreign Minister Taro Aso in a Friday morning press briefing, arguing the bill should be put on the back burner.

Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki told a separate news conference, “Whether or not (the bill is debated during) the ongoing Diet session, it is desirable for us to form a national consensus first.”

The ministers’ comments have added more fuel to internal rebellion against Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is now drawing up the bill for submission to the Diet.

Aso noted it is possible a boy could be born to the Imperial family by the time Princess Aiko, the 4-year-old daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito and Crown Princess Masako, may qualify as a reigning empress if the bill is passed.

“I myself believe we should take more time to discuss this,” Aso said.

On Wednesday, a meeting of conservative politicians adopted a petition urging “cautious deliberation” of the bill at the Diet. It bears the signatures of 173 lawmakers, including 135 from the LDP.

There have been eight reigning empresses, but their successor always went back to the paternal line of the Imperial family. In addition, since 1889, women have been prohibited by law from ascending to the throne.

Few politicians argue that Princess Aiko should not be allowed to become a reigning empress, given widespread support of voters shown in various media polls.

But if a reigning empress marries a commoner and their child would be allowed to be an emperor, it would terminate the centuries-old paternal bloodline and the family would eventually become no different from ordinary families, conservative politicians have argued.

Observers suspect that some LDP lawmakers have tried to use this issue as leverage to weaken Koizumi’s position in deciding his successor. Koizumi has pledged to resign in September when his term as LDP president expires.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, who is in charge of the government-sponsored bill, has supported Koizumi’s stance despite his well-known conservative views. Abe is considered a front-runner in the race to succeed Koizumi.

“I don’t think anybody thinks this issue is part of a power struggle,” Abe told reporters Friday.

Major media, too, have been sharply split.

In its Thursday editorial, the liberal Asahi Shimbun urged Prince Tomohito, Emperor Akihito’s cousin, to refrain from speaking out his view opposing the government-sponsored bill, given the politically sensitive nature of the issue.

Conservative daily Sankei Shimbun immediately struck back in Friday’s editorial, saying a newspaper should not try to suppress the prince’s freedom of speech.