The government is considering submitting a bill to the Diet in late April that will enable Emperor Akihito to abdicate, government sources said Friday.
If passed, the bill will apply only to him.
The government initially considered submitting the bill to the Diet in May, but is now considering doing so sooner because the ruling and opposition parties may be unable to agree on its scope, according to the sources.
The main opposition Democratic Party has opposed legislation that applies only to the current Emperor, instead proposing a permanent change enabling Akihito as well as future emperors to abdicate.
The issue arose after the 83-year-old Emperor last year expressed a desire to abdicate and pass the Chrysanthemum Throne to his 56-year-old son, Crown Prince Naruhito — something for which current law makes no provision.
In response, the government has begun preparing for the Emperor to hand over the throne to the Crown Prince in 2018, by enacting legislation during the regular Diet session starting in January.
Given the possibility that pre-legislative consultations between the ruling and opposition camps over the scope of the legislation may fail to reach a consensus, resulting in the subsequent Diet deliberations on the bill dragging on, the government is leaning toward expediting the legislative process, the sources said. The government intends to compile the gist of the bill by March.
A government advisory panel considering ways to alleviate the Emperor’s workload is expected to release a report summarizing issues pertaining to his possible abdication as soon as Jan. 23, the sources said.
After presenting that report to the Diet, the government will prepare the legislation, reflecting the debate between the ruling and opposition camps, in an attempt to avert a confrontation during Diet deliberations on the bill, according to the sources.
In August, Emperor Akihito addressed the nation via a rare videotaped message, strongly hinting at his desire to relinquish the throne, saying that his advanced age could one day prevent him from fulfilling his duties as the symbol of state.
In pushing for a permanent abdication provision, the Democratic Party is advocating a revision to the Imperial House Law. In contrast, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has favored creating a special law that will allow only the current Emperor to abdicate, which will be a far easier undertaking than revising the Imperial House Law.
The government is opposed to creating a permanent provision for abdication on the grounds it is difficult to set conditions that will always prove suitable in the future, so it is best to accommodate the current Emperor’s wish through special legislation.
The government-commissioned panel shares that view, according to Takashi Mikuriya, a University of Tokyo professor emeritus and one of its six members.
However, some legal experts question the legality of creating a separate law to deal with abdication, citing the Constitution which stipulates that the Imperial Throne shall be “succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law.”
The government may therefore craft special legislation that draws on the Imperial House Law as its legal basis, the sources said.