Political parties divided over emperor abdication legislation



Japan’s political parties showed differing positions Monday over possible legislation to enable Emperor Akihito to abdicate in separate hearings with the heads of both chambers of parliament, participants said.

Although the sessions were held as part of the parliamentary leaders’ efforts to iron out differing opinions among ruling and opposition parties, the results suggest more discussions are needed before a bill is submitted for legislation.

Representatives from Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party said the party supports a one-off legal mechanism enabling the 83-year-old emperor to abdicate and make way for Crown Prince Naruhito, 56.

The LDP’s junior coalition partner Komeito party, along with two other conservative parties, said during their hearings that they hold a similar view.

Abe’s government is seeking to materialize the aging emperor’s wish to abdicate, which was hinted at in a video message released last August, by means of enacting one-off legislation.

In contrast, the main opposition Democratic Party has advocated a permanent system through a revision to the Imperial House Law, which lacks an abdication provision.

Yoshihiko Noda, the party’s secretary general, said he called for the parliament heads to create an opportunity for all the parties to discuss the issue, instead of separate hearings.

In response, House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima indicated a willingness to do so after taking part in sessions with a total of 10 parties and groups.

The Japanese Communist Party, together with two other small parties and two groups, also demanded that the imperial law be amended.

Some legal experts and the Democratic Party argue that the planned LDP-led special legislation may violate the Constitution as the supreme law stipulates the imperial throne shall be “succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law.”

In light of that, Masahiko Komura, vice president of the LDP, said after the party’s hearing he believes it is necessary to take measures to clarify the relationship between the envisioned special law and the imperial law.

Komeito deputy chief Kazuo Kitagawa said Oshima asked the party about the idea of adding a supplementary clause to the imperial law and putting the special law’s legal base in it. The ruling coalition has been studying the idea to bridge the gap with opposition parties as it could pave the way for future emperors to step down.

Kitagawa told reporters that he replied, “There is room to study.”

The Diet heads are hoping for early enactment of legislation and are making a rare attempt to reconcile parties’ opinions before the bill’s formulation, lawmakers said.

Taking into consideration each party’s opinion, Oshima and others will compile the Diet’s opinion possibly by mid-March.

Oshima said at a press conference that the Diet heads will meet later this week to discuss how to proceed with debate in the Diet afterward.

In January, a government advisory panel studying the abdication issue released an interim report emphasizing the merits of legislation applying only to Emperor Akihito but not to future emperors.

Considering the Diet’s view and the upcoming advisory council’s final proposal, the government plans to submit the bill to the Diet sometime between late April and early May, political sources said.


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