A bill enabling Emperor Akihito to step down in what would be Japan’s first abdication in roughly 200 years cleared the House of Representatives on Friday, setting the stage for its passage by the Diet on June 9.
With political parties having reached a prior consensus, the lower house endorsed the legislation following deliberations lasting just two days. A House of Councillors committee is expected to start debate on the bill next Wednesday, with a plenary session slated to approve it two days later.
Although the bill is a one-time measure specially designed for the 83-year-old emperor to relinquish the Chrysanthemum throne, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, who is in charge of the Diet deliberations over the bill, said it could set a precedent for abdications by future emperors.
Currently, only posthumous succession is allowed as the Imperial House Law, which stipulates imperial matters, lacks a provision for abdication by an emperor.
The timing of the abdication will be decided within three years after the special law is promulgated. Sources close to the matter have said the government envisions December 2018, when the emperor will turn 85, as a possible date for him to hand over the throne to Crown Prince Naruhito.
At the lower house plenary session, the opposition Liberal Party and Yukio Edano, former secretary general of the Democratic Party, abstained from the vote, while Shizuka Kamei, an independent lawmaker who formerly served as financial services minister, objected to the bill.
The Liberal Party and Edano had insisted the Imperial House Law should be revised to allow abdications by future emperors.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government started preparing for a legal measure to enable the emperor to step down after he indicated his wish to do so in a rare nationally televised message last August due to his advanced age.
The bill states the public’s “understanding” and “sympathy” for the aging emperor’s “deep concern” about eventually becoming unable to fulfill his duties as the reason for establishing the special law.
According to the legislation, the emperor after retirement will become “joko,” a shorter term for “daijo tenno,” a title given to past abdicated emperors, and Empress Michiko will be given the title of “jokogo,” which means “wife of joko.”
The lower house steering committee adopted Thursday a special resolution attached to the bill calling on the government to launch debate on enabling female members to create their own branches and remain in the imperial family even after their marriage to commoners.
As princesses have to leave the imperial family upon their marriage, the idea is seen as one of the solutions to the urgent problem of a decline in the number of imperial family members who are supposed to perform various duties.
The nonbinding resolution urges the government to “consider various issues to secure stable imperial succession, including creating female branches.” But it says the government must consider those issues “directly after the enforcement of the legislation” and does not specify when the government will report the results to the Diet.