It was announced this week that Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party have decided to support the creation of a one-time-use mechanism to legally allow 83-year-old Emperor Akihito to abdicate.
The decision was made after a number of meetings to decide the matter and is controversial in that it directly contradicts the views of the main opposition party – the Democrats – who have argued for the creation of a permanent legal mechanism for abdication which could be enabled future emperors to also relinquish the throne by choice.
The debate on the abdication issue began in August 2016 when Emperor Akihito released a video message that made his desire to abdicate due to his advanced age very clear to his subjects and the country’s political entities. Formal deliberations will soon begin between the Democratic Party, the Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito.
At present, only posthumous succession is allowed as the 1947 Imperial House Law – which sets out rules for imperial affairs – does not have a provision regarding abdication. Komeito is expected to also make clear this week that they stand with the LDP and support for the government’s intention to enact one-off legislation to enable the emperor’s abdication.
In addition to the on-going discussions about the abdication issue, the LDP will be deliberating on ways to ensure a sustainable imperial succession. This would mean the first serious discussion about creating legislation to enable the establishment of female branches of the imperial family. Currently, women ‘leave’ the Imperial Family when they marry.
As with all royal changes there is contentious debate around the issue and there are some amongst the LDP, including Shigeru Ishiba, former LDP secretary-general, who criticise the controlled nature of the decision-making process which, thus far, has only included senior and specially selected LDP members instead of being open to all of its lawmakers.
Opinions from each party on the abdication issue will be heard by House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima from Monday, 20 February.