An abdication bill drafted strictly for Emperor Akihito cleared the House of Representatives on Friday, setting the stage for its passage by the Diet on June 9.
Thanks to a consensus reached by the political parties ahead of time, the Lower House approved the legislation after just two days of deliberations.
The House of Councilors is expected to open debate on the bill in committee on Wednesday, and the full Upper House expected to make it law two days later.
Although the bill is a one-time measure designed specially for the 83-year-old Emperor, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is in charge of Diet deliberations on the bill, said it could set a precedent for future abdications.
Currently, only posthumous succession is allowed because the Imperial House Law lacks a provision for abdication.
The timing will be decided within three years after the special law is promulgated. Sources close to the matter have said the government is looking to have the Emperor hand the Chrysanthemum Throne over to Crown Prince Naruhito in December 2018, when the Emperor will turn 85.
During the Lower House vote, the opposition Liberal Party and Yukio Edano, former secretary-general of the Democratic Party, abstained. Shizuka Kamei, an independent who was formerly financial services minister, objected to the bill.
The Liberal Party and Edano had insisted the Imperial House Law be revised to permanently allow other emperors to step down.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government started preparing the legislation after the Emperor hinted in a rare, nationally televised video message last August that he would like step down because his advanced age was interfering with his duties.
The bill states the public’s “understanding” and “sympathy” for the aging monarch’s “deep concern” about eventually becoming unable to fulfill his duties as the reason for establishing the special law.
If the Emperor retires, he will be the first to do so in roughly 200 years.
According to the legislation, the Emperor after retirement will become joko, a shorter term for daijo tenno, a title that was given to other emperors who stepped down, while Empress Michiko will be given the title of jokogo, which means “wife of joko.”
The Lower House steering committee on Thursday adopted a special nonbinding resolution attached to the bill calling on the government to launch debate on enabling female members to create their own branches and remain in the Imperial family even after they marry commoners.
As princesses have to leave the Imperial family upon marriage, the idea is seen as a potential solution to the urgent problem of the Imperial family’s shrinking ranks.
The nonbinding resolution urges the government to “consider various issues to secure stable imperial succession, including creating female branches.” It also says the government must consider those issues “directly after the enforcement of the legislation” but does not specify when the government must report the results to the Diet.
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