The government’s abdication panel submitted its final report to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Friday, skipping politically sensitive issues but following the Diet’s consensus that Emperor Akihito should be allowed to retire after a special temporary law is enacted.
The panel’s report also made a number of recommendations regarding the title, status and other legal details considered appropriate for a retired emperor and his heir.
For example, the panel recommended that a retired emperor should be called joko, which literally means grand emperor, and should not engage in any public duties as “the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people,” which is the status accorded to the emperor by Article 1 of the Constitution.
All of those duties should be taken over by the newly installed emperor to avoid splitting the symbolic authority of the Imperial status, the report said.
Based on the report, the government plans to draw up a special bill that will apply only to Emperor Akihito, who, during a rare video message televised nationwide last August, hinted that he wished to abdicate due to age-related concerns about his ability to carry out his public duties.
The government plans to submit the bill to the Diet before it closes in June.
All major parties, including the opposition-leading Democratic Party, are expected to give it their support.
According to Kyodo News, the government bill will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate within three years of publication of the legislation. Under the current Imperial House Law, the emperor remains the emperor until death.
If he retires, Crown Prince Naruhito will succeed him and Prince Akishino, his younger brother, will become the next crown prince.
Meanwhile, Princess Aiko, the only child of Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako, cannot become a ruling empress because the Imperial House Law only allows males in the Imperial line to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne.
After Emperor Akihito hinted at his desire to abdicate, conservatives and liberals started arguing about whether the Imperial House Law should be revised on a permanent basis to allow any future emperor to abdicate due to old age.
The ruling camp argued that such an amendment could destabilize the Imperial succession process and called for drawing up a special temporary law that would apply only to Emperor Akihito.
The Democratic Party and other opposition parties, however, argued that an abdication system should be institutionalized after the law is permanently revised.
The opposition camp, however, eventually warmed to the idea of drafting a temporary law after the ruling bloc clarified in a joint written statement last month that the envisioned abdication of Emperor Akihito can become “a precedent case” for future emperors.
In January, the abdication panel publicized an interim report that had compiled the pros and cons of permanently revising the Imperial system without put forward any conclusions of its own.
Similarly, in Friday’s final report, the panel opted not to express any views and merely followed the consensus reached in March by the ruling and opposition parties.
The panel also skipped over another sensitive issue concerning the sustainability of the Imperial system: the shortage of male heirs.
The Imperial family has only one young male member, Prince Hisahito, 10, while all seven of its young princesses are destined to eventually lose Imperial status if they marry outside the family.
In the final chapter of the report, the panel referenced this long-standing issue faced by the Imperial family but only called on the public to discuss it.
Liberal intellectuals have long argued that a female should be allowed to ascend the throne or that princesses should be allowed to maintain their Imperial status even if they marry a commoner.
But conservative lawmakers, in particular those belonging to Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party, remain opposed to changing the male-only Imperial succession system, and this apparently swayed the panel to refrain from expressing any views on this politically sensitive issue.
To maintain the male-only succession system, some right-leaning lawmakers have even argued that a law should be enacted to let former collateral branches of the Imperial family that were deprived of their privileges after the end of the World War II regain their Imperial status.