National

Majority of experts support Emperor's abdication at panel hearings

Kyodo

A majority of the 16 experts summoned to a government advisory panel support the idea of enabling 82-year-old Emperor Akihito to abdicate entirely or conditionally, it has emerged as the grouping held its third and final hearing Wednesday.

But the experts, specialists in the imperial institution, history and law, were mostly opposed to the government’s reported plan to let only the current emperor to relinquish the throne via one-off legislation.

Wednesday’s meeting involved five experts who examined the matter from a legal standpoint, including constitutional scholars and a former Supreme Court justice. The first and second meetings were held earlier this month.

The outcome casts a shadow over the government’s efforts to seek a quick solution without engaging in complicated discussions on amending the 1947 Imperial House Law, which could fuel debate on whether to allow female succession in the face of the Imperial family’s dwindling size.

Under the present system, an emperor is expected to reign for life as the Imperial House Law lacks a provision for abdication.

Of the 16 experts summoned, nine supported the Emperor’s abdication entirely or conditionally while the remaining seven expressed opposition. Five of the nine were supportive of the idea of a one-off legislation.

The panel’s findings are expected to form the basis of a bill that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to submit to the regular Diet session starting in January.

Among Wednesday’s experts, former Supreme Court Judge Itsuo Sonobe submitted a statement to the panel saying it would be “desirable” to introduce a new system in which an emperor can abdicate should he wish when he becomes old, although he noted that some conditions should be set to cope with risks such as an emperor being compelled to abdicate against his will or an emperor relinquishing the throne in an arbitrary manner.

In the meantime, Sonobe said, he supports one-off legislation applying only to Emperor Akihito.

Hidetsugu Yagi, a professor on constitutional studies at Reitaku University, expressed adamant opposition to abdication, saying it would be unconstitutional for the government to set up a new system that enables abdication in response to an emperor’s wish since the supreme law bans an emperor from having political powers.

Yagi also said allowing an emperor to dictate his abdication could eventually lead to a situation where he could refuse to succeed to the throne or abdicate a short time after his accession.

“This would sharply undermine the stability of the Imperial Throne and endanger the existence of the Imperial household system,” he said.

The other experts invited to Wednesday’s meeting were also constitutional scholars — Makoto Oishi, a professor at Kyoto University’s graduate school, Kazuyuki Takahashi, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, and Akira Momochi, visiting professor at Kokushikan University’s graduate school.

The panel heard opinions from the experts in the three sessions this month to study how the burden on the emperor can be alleviated following Emperor Akihito’s rare televised address to the nation in August signaling his desire to abdicate in the future.

The lineup was comprised of 12 scholars on history, Imperial household issues and law including the Constitution, a nonfiction writer, two journalists and a former home affairs ministry bureaucrat.

The Emperor said he is concerned that age and failing health could one day mean that he would not be able to fulfill his constitutional role as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.”

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