Japan picks six experts for panel on abdication

Emperor Akihito waves from a bullet train before departing Tokyo on Aug 20 for a visit to Nagano and Gunma prefectures. The Emperor has hinted that he wishes to step down.
Emperor Akihito waves from a bullet train before departing Tokyo on Aug 20 for a visit to Nagano and Gunma prefectures. The Emperor has hinted that he wishes to step down.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

TOKYO • Japan has appointed six experts to a panel who will discuss measures to reduce Emperor Akihito's official duties, following the elderly monarch's indication of his intention to abdicate.

The advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, led by Mr Takashi Imai, honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation, or Keidanren, will hear opinions from constitutional scholars and historians, Japanese media reported. It will hold its first meeting in mid-October.

The Emperor, 82, hinted in a rare televised address to the nation in August that he wished to step down due to advanced age.

But the abdication issue is politically sensitive in Japan as the country's post-war Constitution does not provide for the monarch's abdication. This means that the Imperial Household Law must be revised before Emperor Akihito can step down - a complicated process that could delay Mr Abe's plans to reform the country's pacifist Constitution to give its military a larger role.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference on Friday that the government hopes that the new panel will take into account the fact that the Emperor is at the advanced age of 82 and discuss such issues as reducing his official duties.

"We would like to hear discussions between the members with expertise on measures to reduce the Emperor's official duties, without prejudgments," Mr Suga said, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun.

He used the phrase "without prejudgments" four times during the briefing, the report said, in an apparent effort to emphasise that the government will not limit discussions to the issue of abdication and risk turning the exercise into a political one, thus conflicting with the Constitution which denies the emperor any power in government.

However, a senior government official told the newspaper: "The ultimate measure to reduce the official duties is abdication."

The panellists are experts on the economy and administration, reported the Yomiuri. Apart from Mr Imai, whose nephew is an executive secretary to Mr Abe, the other five members are university academics.

"We chose people who have rich experience in managing organisations and coordinating debates at conferences," said Mr Suga.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 25, 2016, with the headline 'Japan forms expert panel to discuss abdication issue'. Print Edition | Subscribe