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'Female-led Imperial Family branches' part of draft bill for Emperor's abdication

In this file photo taken on Jan. 1, 2015, female members of the Imperial Family prepare for a New Year's congratulatory ceremony at the Matsu-no-Ma state room at the Imperial Palace. (Pool photo)

In a concessional move, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is set to allow the establishment of female-headed branch houses of the Imperial Family to be specified in a draft additional resolution to a special bill to allow Emperor Akihito's abdication, putting priority on stable Imperial succession and making it likely for the draft to incorporate the proposal.

On May 29, House of Representatives Committee on Rules and Administration chief Tsutomu Sato of the LDP presented to other parties a draft of an additional resolution to a special bill allowing the Emperor's retirement, which included a stipulation calling for the government to consider the establishment of branch houses headed by married female Imperial Family members.

The LDP had maintained reservations about women-headed Imperial branch houses due to concerns among many conservative party members that it could lead to the advent of matrilineal emperors in the future. However, the party decided to allow the draft additional resolution of the bill to refer to the creation of such branch families after making a concession to the largest opposition Democratic Party (DP), paving the way for the proposed resolution to spell out the new rule.

Under the current law, female members have to leave the Imperial Family after marriage. The DP has insisted that female members be allowed to create their own Imperial branch houses even after marriage.

The draft additional resolution submitted by Sato takes the DP's proposal into consideration by specifying "the establishment of female-led Imperial Family branches, etc." The draft states that the government would start considering the establishment of such branch houses "soon after the law comes into effect," as proposed by the LDP and its coalition partner Komeito. The draft stipulates that reports on the results of discussions on the issue should be made to the Diet "swiftly," but does not specify any deadline for such reports.

The parties in the panel are set to deliberate on the draft at a board meeting of the lower house rules and administration committee on May 30. While the LDP and Komeito are set to approve of Sato's proposal, DP Secretary-General Yoshihiko Noda insisted that a conclusion be drawn at the earliest date possible by setting a deadline, leaving the issues on the timing for starting government discussion on the establishment of female-led branch houses and the deadlines for filing reports to the Diet major points of contention.

The LDP and Komeito presented a draft additional resolution on May 26 that states, "The government will consider issues concerning the declining number, etc. of Imperial Family members as a result of marriages of female members and other factors soon after the law comes into effect, and will report the results of the discussion to the Diet." While the draft took into account the likely engagement of Princess Mako, a grandchild of Emperor Akihito and the elder daughter of Prince Akishino and Princess Kiko, it had skirted around the issue of establishing female-led branch families.

At an LDP board meeting on May 29, party Diet affairs chief Wataru Takeshita emphasized that the party would do its utmost to send the bill to allow Emperor Akihito's retirement to the House of Councillors within this week after having it pass the lower house.

The LDP and DP had earlier decided that the two parties should agree on the content of the draft additional resolution to the bill before discussion in the upper house starts. The LDP apparently made concessions to ensure the earlier passage of the bill. The DP had earlier presented a draft resolution stating that "The government will consider the establishment of female-led Imperial Family branches swiftly after the passage of the special law allowing the Emperor to abdicate and file reports to the Diet within a year."

The view of the Diet on the issue, which was compiled in March at the initiative of the heads and vice heads of both houses of the Diet, including lower house speaker Tadamori Oshima, called on the government to start looking into the establishment of female-led branch houses promptly after the abdication law's implementation. However, the DP demanded that the discussion be started even earlier, arguing that it would be too late to wait until the end of 2018 to start the discussion, when the abdication law is expected to come into effect. The abdication bill states that the legislation will come into effect on the day Emperor Akihito steps down.

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