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Panel eyes setting precedent for Emperor's abdication in future: interview

Takashi Mikuriya, professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo. (Mainichi)

An advisory panel to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on the Emperor's abdication is set to draw up points of contention over the issue next month. According to the summarized minutes of the panel's seventh meeting released on Dec. 26, panel members are open to instituting a special law enabling Emperor Akihito to step down in response to his video message released in August.

    The following is an excerpt from a Mainichi Shimbun interview with the panel's deputy chair, Takashi Mikuriya, who is professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo.

    Mainichi: How would the panel write about the pros and cons of the issue of the Emperor's abdication?

    Mikuriya: It would pose a constitutional problem if our report directly reflected His Majesty's words, but the six of us panel members largely share the view that the Emperor's abdication should be actively promoted by facing up to his feelings straightforwardly.

    Mainichi: Panel members have agreed that it is difficult to introduce a permanent system for the Emperor's abdication. Would the report specify that a special law will be created to allow abdication just once?

    Mikuriya: It is difficult to set conditions for cases that could arise in the future. For example, if the retirement age for the Emperor was set at 85, there would be an atmosphere in which even an emperor who is still in good health has to retire at 85. In a sense, that would mean the Emperor will be forced to step down. It would be good to introduce a special law to respond to the latest case.

    Mainichi: There are many calls for instituting a permanent system for abdication that can be applied to future emperors. What do you think about such opinions?

    Mikuriya: If we respond to the latest case by introducing a special law, it could set a precedent for a future emperor who wishes to abdicate to follow suit. While the requirements for abdication would change depending on the time, such a precedent would open the way for future cases.

    Mainichi: When would be the appropriate time for the Emperor to step down?

    Mikuriya: Surmising from the Emperor's message released in August, 2018 would be a possible benchmark year, but it all depends on the circumstances.

    Mainichi: There is criticism that the panel's discussion is going too fast.

    Mikuriya: It has been a long time since His Majesty revealed his intentions (for abdication). We will set a certain direction because consultations between ruling and opposition parties would face difficulties if our report just listed up both the pros and cons over the issue.

    Mainichi: The issue of the Imperial succession amid the declining number of Imperial Family members will remain unaddressed, while measures such as establishing branches of the Imperial Family headed by female members or allowing a female or matrilineal emperor are considered to address the issue.

    Mikuriya: We are not going to shut our doors to such debates. What we are aiming to achieve is to open a new approach in conventional discussions by allowing the Emperor's abdication, and the rest will be left up to the next stage.

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