Ja­pan panel be­gins to study em­peror’s pos­si­ble ab­di­ca­tion

Malta Independent - - WORLD -

Ex­perts on a govern­ment-com­mis­sioned panel held their first meet­ing yes­ter­day to study how to ac­com­mo­date Em­peror Ak­i­hito’s ap­par­ent ab­di­ca­tion wish, in a coun­try where he is not sup­posed to say any­thing po­lit­i­cal.

Un­like many Euro­pean coun­tries where ab­di­ca­tion of kings and queens are rel­a­tively com­mon, Ja­pan’s mod­ern im­pe­rial law doesn’t al­low ab­di­ca­tion, and Ja­pan’s post-war con­sti­tu­tion stip­u­lates the em­peror as a mere “sym­bol” with no po­lit­i­cal power or say.

Al­low­ing Ak­i­hito to ab­di­cate would be a ma­jor change to the sys­tem, and raises a se­ries of le­gal and lo­gis­ti­cal ques­tions, rang­ing from laws sub­ject to change to the em­peror’s post-ab­di­ca­tion role, his ti­tle and res­i­dence.

The six panel mem­bers — five aca­demics and a busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion ex­ec­u­tive — are to com­pile a re­port early next year af­ter in­ter­view­ing spe­cial­ists on the con­sti­tu­tion, monarchy and his­tory.

Ak­i­hito, 82, sug­gested his wish to ab­di­cate in a rare video message to the pub­lic in Au­gust, cit­ing his age and con­cern that he may not be able to ful­fil his of­fi­cial du­ties. His message was sub­tle and the em­peror did not use the word “ab­di­ca­tion,” be­cause say­ing that openly could have vi­o­lated his con­sti­tu­tional sta­tus.

Cur­rent law, set in 1947, largely in­her­its a 19th cen­tury con­sti­tu­tion that banned ab­di­ca­tion as a potential risk to po­lit­i­cal sta­bil­ity.

About 80 per­cent of the general pub­lic sup­ports Ak­i­hito’s ab­di­ca­tion, say­ing he should be al­lowed to re­tire and en­joy life while he is still in good health. In ad­di­tion to re­ceiv­ing for­eign dig­ni­taries, Ak­i­hito still trav­els across the coun­try to at­tend cer­e­monies and has re­peat­edly vis­ited dis­as­ter-hit ar­eas to con­sole sur­vivors.

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.

Ak­i­hito sug­gested in his pub­lic message a need to con­sider how to make the suc­ces­sion process smoother. He re­called the dif­fi­cul­ties he faced when his fa­ther, Hiro­hito, died in 1989 while he was largely serv­ing as a sub­sti­tute. He said he doesn’t wish to cling to his ti­tle if his re­spon­si­bil­i­ties have to be se­verely re­duced and he has to rely on a re­gent.

The ab­di­ca­tion is­sue has also re­newed con­cerns about ag­ing and short­age of suc­ces­sors in the 2,000-year-old monarchy, re­flect­ing the over­all con­cern about Ja­pan’s de­clin­ing and rapidly ag­ing pop­u­la­tion.

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