Regarding how to cope with Imperial abdication — an issue that Emperor Akihito raised in his video message last August citing a “decline in my fitness level because of my advancing age” — the Liberal Democratic Party favors enacting a special law applicable solely to him —a view shared by its coalition partner Komeito and the conservative Nippon Ishin no Kai. The Democratic Party and other opposition parties call for revising the Imperial House Law, which sets the rules for Imperial succession but does not provide for an emperor stepping down. This week, the speaker and vice speaker of the Lower House and the president and vice president of the Upper House sounded out the position of each party on the issue — an unusual move to take before a bill has even been submitted to the Diet.
What’s worrying about the process is that the question of Imperial abdication is being discussed without the inclusion of the public. The Abe administration and the political parties should discuss the issue in a manner open to the public in order to get public opinions reflected in the decision on a matter that concerns the foundation of the Imperial system under Japan’s constitutional democracy. Government leaders and lawmakers should pay heed to Article 1 of the Constitution, which says an emperor derives “his position from the will of the people with whom resides sovereign power.”
A government panel of knowledgeable persons discussing Imperial succession disclosed a summary last month of the points discussed. The main thrust of the summary was that a special law applicable to Emperor Akihito alone is desirable on the grounds that institutionalizing Imperial abdication will face many problems — effectively supporting the Abe administration’s position on the issue. Shortly thereafter, the LDP decided in a meeting of party elders that it favors the special law approach — instead of institutionalizing abdication by amending the Imperial House Law because, the party said, it would be difficult to set appropriate criteria for abdication that could be applicable to all future emperors.
Some LDP lawmakers reportedly call for setting permanent rules on Imperial abdication, while others suggest discussions should also be held on ways to sustain the emperor system for the future in view of the paucity of males in the Imperial family in line to the throne. Under the Imperial House Law, the throne “shall be succeeded to by a male offspring in the male line belonging to the Imperial lineage.” But such views went unheeded as the LDP leadership wrapped up the party’s position. Former LDP Secretary-General Shigeru Ishiba is demanding that the party open up the discussion among its members, saying the decision on this issue should not be made by a closed circle of party elders. His position makes sense.
In an apparent attempt to win over the DP and other parties, the ruling coalition is thinking about incorporating a provision into the Imperial House Law that would serve as the legal basis for the special law. The LDP-Komeito alliance is seeking consensus support for the legislation in the Diet, instead of a split vote, so that it will be in keeping with the provision in the Constitution that emperors’ status derives from the “will of the people.” Another idea being floated within the coalition is that it strike an agreement with the DP stating the need for future discussions on the establishment of princely houses headed by female members of the Imperial family — in response to the DP’s call for revising the Imperial House Law to allow the creation of such houses so as to increase the number of Imperial family members. These ideas — while worth considering — should not be used as bargaining chips to forge a consensus with the opposition. Such matters should be discussed openly in the Diet, along with all other questions related to Imperial abdication.
Given the dearth of younger generation males in the Imperial family, discussing the creation of princely houses headed by women and paving the way for female members of the family to ascend the Chrysanthemum Throne seem inevitable. The scope of the discussions sparked by Emperor Akihito’s wish to abdicate should be expanded to include such matters as the future shape of the Imperial system under the Constitution, which states that emperors “shall be the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people.”
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