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More talks on female-led Imperial Family branches encouraged in special law proposal

A proposal for the establishment of special legislation for Emperor Akihito's abdication presented on March 15 by the heads and vice heads of both houses of the Diet encourages the government to swiftly work on examining possibilities of building Imperial Family branches headed by female members as a possible way to ensure a stable succession to the throne.

The heads and vice heads of both chambers presented the proposal to a general meeting with ruling and opposition parties at House of Representatives Speaker Tadamori Oshima's official residence in Tokyo. It will be submitted to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on March 17 after each party gives it their approval.

The proposal suggested the special law for Emperor Akihito's retirement be specified under the supplementary clause of the existing Imperial House Law as legislation which will be an integral part of this law, dispelling concerns about a potential violation of Article 2 of the Constitution, which states that the Imperial Throne shall be succeeded to in accordance with the Imperial House Law. The proposal also said that Emperor Akihito's abdication would be regarded as an exception, but at the same time his move would provide an example for future emperors.

According to the proposal, circumstances leading to Emperor Akihito's abdication would be stated in the special legislation, which include: the fact that the general public shows understanding of the Emperor's involvement in activities as the symbol of the country for over 28 years; the Emperor's advanced age, as well as the fact that Crown Prince Naruhito has passed the age when the current Emperor ascended the throne and that he has long been acting as an agent to substitute for Emperor Akihito at state affairs; and that the people have shown sympathy for Emperor Akihito's wish to step down that he indicated in his speech released in August 2016.

By specifying these circumstances, the Diet would be able to judge whether abdication should be allowed for future emperors on a case-by-case basis, thereby preventing arbitrary decisions by emperors to step down or emperors being forcibly removed from the throne.

In addition, the proposal suggested the special legislation include the Emperor's post-retirement position and title, as well as how he should be treated after he steps down. It also requested special provisions regarding Imperial succession to be included in the special law.

Both the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and main opposition Democratic Party agreed to the proposal, while the minor opposition Liberal Party expressed dissatisfaction with the plan, saying that main provisions of the Imperial House Law should be revised rather than making an addition to the supplementary clause.

The proposal is likely to serve as the skeletal principles of a bill, which is expected to be submitted to the Diet around the holiday period in May. The bill is expected to be passed by the end of the current Diet session.

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