The government’s efforts to ensure stable imperial succession have been slow to get off the ground, with full-fledged discussions possibly being held after the next general election.
The government is looking to set up a panel of experts to discuss the issue in 2021, including whether to allow female emperors or emperors from the maternal bloodline to ascend to the throne.
But some officials are concerned about the possible impact of the discussions on the election for the House of Representatives. The term of office of the current Lower House members ends next October.
A senior government official called for discussions on the matter to be avoided before the poll. “Having political parties express different opinions during the campaigning is inappropriate,” the official said.
In addition, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga supports the current system of only male descendants in the imperial family’s paternal line ascending the throne.
In a statement released to the media in December, Suga said the issue “needs to be discussed carefully,” given the significance of the system that has been sustained since ancient times without exception.
On a decrease in the number of imperial family members as a result of female members becoming married, Suga also pointed to the need for “sufficient analysis, consideration and careful procedures to win understanding from the people.”
With the series of rituals related to the enthronement of Emperor Naruhito having been completed, the government is in the process of selecting members of the experts’ panel and discussing the date of the panel’s launch.
But a source close to the prime minister said: “The timing is undecided. It may come after the Lower House election.”
The government is not in a rush also because Prince Hisahito, the son of Crown Prince Akishino who is second in line to the throne, is only 14 years old. Some in the Prime Minister’s Office say that a conclusion on the topic does not need to be reached for a few years.
The reluctance to speed up deliberations also reflect recent plunges in Suga’s public approval ratings amid criticism of his response to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Only a stable administration can act on issues regarding the imperial family. The Suga administration can’t for now,” a government source said.
In 2017, the Diet called on the government to discuss ways to ensure stable imperial succession and report back swiftly. “The Suga Cabinet should resolve the issue,” Lower House Speaker Tadamori Oshima said in an interview.
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