June 8, 2017
TOKYO- A special committee of the House of Councillors, the upper chamber of Japan's parliament, on Wednesday passed government-sponsored special legislation for Emperor Akihito's abdication.
The committee approved the abdication bill, which applies only to the current Emperor, with support from all parties, except for the small opposition Liberal Party.
The legislation, which cleared the House of Representatives, the lower chamber, last week, is expected to be enacted at Friday's plenary meeting of the Upper House, setting the stage for the first Imperial abdication in about 200 years in Japan.
Ahead of the vote, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga stressed at the Upper House committee the government's policy of continuing the current system of Chrysanthemum Throne succession to male offspring in the paternal line of the Imperial lineage, as stipulated in the Imperial House Law.
"Sustaining stable succession for the throne is an extremely important issue that concerns the basics of the state," Suga said. "In view of the need for a cautious and careful approach, we will continue to study it (the issue of stable succession) bearing in mind the weight of succession along the male line that has been maintained since ancient times with no exceptions."
To ensure stable Imperial succession, the main opposition Democratic Party has called for allowing female Imperial Family members to establish family branches. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his conservative supporters oppose the proposal, however, due to concerns that it may pave the way for offspring in the maternal line of the Imperial lineage to ascend the throne.
The remarks of Suga were apparently intended to underline that Abe's commitment to Imperial succession by male offspring in the male line will not waver in the coming debate on stable succession, analysts say.
Under the current Imperial House Law, women in the Imperial Family lose their membership of the family after marriage to men outside the family.
Suga also reiterated the government's position that the special legislation may offer a model for possible abdications of future Emperors.
On Emperor Akihito's life after abdication, Suga said it would not be appropriate for him to engage in activities as the symbol of the state in principle because
such activities are to be handed over entirely to his eldest son and successor, Crown Prince Naruhito, as explained by the Imperial Household Agency.
He said he believes that the agency will discuss individual cases and make decisions.
Under Japan's constitution, the Emperor's status is defined as "the symbol of the state and of the unity of the people." After Emperor Akihito steps down, he will be given the title of "joko" and Empress Michiko the title of "jokogo," according to the abdication bill.
As in the Lower House, a nonbinding supplementary resolution was adopted following the vote on the bill by the Upper House committee, asking the government to consider allowing female Imperial Family members to establish family branches and ways to ensure stable Imperial succession.
The special abdication bill was drawn up after 83-year-old Emperor Akihito, in a rare video message broadcast in August last year, suggested a wish to step down due to his advancing age. The current law limits Imperial succession to when the incumbent passes away.
The special legislation stipulates that Emperor Akihito's abdication should be realized on the day of its enforcement, within three years of its promulgation.
The government is considering setting the abdication date in late December 2018 and changing the era name from the current "Heisei" on Jan. 1, 2019. (Jiji Press)
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