EXPERTS on a government-commissioned panel in Japan held their first meeting Monday to study how to accommodate Emperor Akihito’s apparent abdication wish, in a country where the monarch is not supposed to get involved in politics.
Japan’s modern imperial law doesn’t allow abdication. Allowing Akihito to do so raises legal and logistical questions, ranging from laws subject to change to the emperor’s post-abdication role, his title and residence.
Six panel members who met Monday — five academics and a business organization executive — are to compile a report early next year after interviewing specialists on the Constitution, monarchy and history.
The government reportedly wants to allow Akihito’s abdication as an exception and enact a special law to avoid dealing with divisive issues such as possible female succession and lack of successors.
The Japanese emperor had in August hinted that he may relinquish the throne as concerns mounted over his ability to carry out his duties fully as he ages.
Emperor Akihito made the remarks in a rare video message delivered to the public on national television.
The 82-year-old monarch did not explicitly refer to abdication in his address. He did suggest a need to consider how to make the succession process smoother.
According to Japan Today (via the Associated Press), Akihito’s position as a monarch in the country is purely symbolic as he does not hold any political power or have any say in state affairs.
Discussion on how to realize the abdication of Emperor Akihito begins. He's 82. A local network says he is willing to stay on until 2018
— michiyo ishida (@MichiyoCNA) October 17, 2016
Akihito has reportedly told palace officials and his family that he doesn’t wish to cling to his title with severely reduced responsibilities, and his two sons have accepted the idea.
“My age has already exceeded 80, and I’m happy to be still healthy. But when I think of my declining physical strength, I’m worried it will be difficult to perform my duties as a symbol of the state,” he said in the message, which was broadcast on national television networks, as quoted by the Japan Times.
The Emperor said his advanced age would pose an increasing challenge for him to perform his duties and visit various places throughout the country.
Akihito, who has ruled for 27 years, succeeded his father Hirohito in 1989 and was the first of the country’s emperors to hold the position in a merely symbolic capacity. He was also the first Japanese ruler to marry a commoner.
The emperor was tipped to be succeeded by his eldest son, 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito but deliberations on who was the rightful successor is still ongoing despite him being named as the heir apparent.
A report in Japan Times said the discussions could drastically transform the future of the world’s oldest royal system, as the country had dearth of male heirs.
Japan also faces concerns over the sustainability of the male-only succession line, but Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has made veiled attempts at limiting the scope of the panel’s discussion to avoid backlash from his Japanese nationalist supported.
The nationalists are against the emperor’s abdication as they fear it would destabilize the Imperial system in the long-run.
SEE ALSO: How does the monarchy affect democracy?
If the panel deliberates the revision of its imperial laws, the nationalists also fear calls to allow a female to ascend to the Chrysanthemum Throne would gain political momentum.
Citing an essay published Aug 13, Japan Times quoted a professor emeritus at Waseda University and influential nationalistic polemicist as saying that succession by a male from the male line was of utmost importance.
“The Imperial House Law does not need to be revised. Everything would be fine if someone serves as a regent (if an emperor becomes too old to conduct his duties),” Watanabe Takanobu said.
Additional reporting by the Associated Press