Expert panel should thoroughly discuss abdication issue and imperial system reforms: The Japan News

Japan's Emperor Akihito bows during a parliament session at the Upper House after declaring the start of the new parliament session in Tokyo on Sept 26, 2016.
Japan's Emperor Akihito bows during a parliament session at the Upper House after declaring the start of the new parliament session in Tokyo on Sept 26, 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

In its editorial on Oct 19, the paper encourages the panel to keep an open mind and study various options for its recommendations.

We want discussions on the abdication issue by a government advisory panel to serve as the first step towards forming a consensus among a wide spectrum of people about the proper form of the Imperial system under the Constitution.

In response to the Emperor's indication of his intention to abdicate, the expert panel has held its inaugural meeting to discuss, among other things, measures to reduce the Emperor's burden of official duties.

Speaking at the meeting, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said: "This is an extremely important issue related to the fundamentals of the state, so I want the panel to come up with recommendations that take the various opinions of the people into consideration."

Panel chair Takashi Imai, the honorary chairman of the Japan Business Federation (Keidanren), emphasised: "Securing the people's understanding is indispensable to the compilation of measures to deal with the issue."

The panel will discuss not only the abdication issue but also such measures as the reduction in the burden of the official duties of the Emperor, who is advanced in age, and the roles of a regent who would perform acts in matters of state on behalf of the Emperor.

It is appropriate that the government study the Imperial system comprehensively and in its entirety, while paying high regard to the Emperor's intentions.

After hearing opinions from more than 10 experts on the Constitution and the Imperial family, the panel will compile points of discussion early next year. It will likely put together recommendations as early as next spring. The House of Representatives and the House of Councillors will also discuss the issue after the compilation of discussion points.

A proposal has emerged within the government that calls for establishing a special law that would allow abdication only by the currently reigning Emperor. A Bill for that purpose reportedly will be submitted as early as the ordinary Diet session next year.

What is important in dealing with the abdication issue is to prudently study various options while avoiding prejudgments.

The Constitution stipulates that the Emperor "shall not have powers related to the government". In light of this provision, indiscreet discussions presupposing abdication because of the Emperor's intention must be avoided.

Even if discretionary abdication is permitted as a special case, there is concern that it would adversely affect a stable Imperial succession in the future. It is imperative to discuss measures thoroughly, which would be feasible under the present framework to reduce the Emperor's burden of official duties, including the provision of a regency.

Another important discussion point will be how extensive the Emperor's acts in public matters will be.

Feeling that, aside from his acts in matters of state, being considerate of the people's well-being is a duty of the Emperor as the symbol of the state, the Emperor has spared no effort to visit various parts of the country.

His consideration is greatly appreciated, but considering that he is 82 years old, many people will likely understand that it is reasonable that his official duties be reduced and that Imperial family members perform some duties on behalf of the Emperor.

According to a Yomiuri Shimbun public opinion survey, 48 per cent of respondents said the government should speed up its efforts to reach a conclusion on abdication, compared to 45 per cent who believed it should consider the issue carefully. Thus public opinion is almost equally divided.

More important than anything else is to come up with a decision that will win the people's understanding.

We want the expert panel to lead constructive discussions on the matter. The Diet's efforts to deepen debate are also essential.


The Japan News is a member of The Straits Times' media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 21 newspapers.