Japan Cabinet Allows Emperor Akihito to Hand Over Throne to Crown Prince

Japan's government has approved a one-off bill which if passed will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. AGENCIES

Japan's government has approved a one-off bill which if passed will allow Emperor Akihito to abdicate. AGENCIES

Japan's Cabinet has approved for legislative debate a bill to allow 83-year-old Emperor Akihito to abdicate.

Underscoring the urgency of the situation, a government panel tasked with making recommendations on the abdication issue said late last month in its final report that the succession crisis needed to be addressed soon.

The legislation presented on Friday is especially designed for Akihito, and would prevent future monarchs from also abdicating.

Recent reports stated that Akihito's eldest granddaughter Princess Mako is set to give up her royal status to marry her former classmate who once worked as a beach tourism promoter.

The Japanese government "hopes for the smooth passage of the legislation" Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters on Friday.

He declined to comment on the likely timing of the abdication, saying, "Discussions in the Diet will begin from now".

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Akihito, last August, had hinted that he may step down from the royal position after he publicly cited his increasing age and declining health.

Akihito, who has had heart surgery and prostate cancer treatment, said in rare public remarks previous year he feared age might make it hard for him to fulfil his duties.

While other monarchs - including Dutch Queen Beatrix - have abdicated, Japan's postwar constitution does not now allow an aging emperor to step down.

The government avoided creating a permanent abdication system.

Renewed attention was paid to its future this week after it was announced that Akihito's first grandchild, Princess Mako, will marry her commoner boyfriend, a former university classmate.

But Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, and his conservative Liberal Democratic Party have been resistant to any efforts to allow women to inherit the throne. Only male members are allowed to become emperor. Naruhito's heirs are his younger brother, Prince Akishino, and Akishino's son, Hisahito. The Imperial House Law stipulates that only male patrilineal descendants of emperors can ascend the throne.

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■ The Emperor's Birthday national holiday will be changed from December 23 to February 23. This is the first such abdication in the country in nearly two centuries.

Abdication used to be a common practice; according to Kyodo, about half of Japan's 124 former emperors did so. For example, the bill states the title for the Empress after the Emperor's abdication is "jokogo".

Akihito was 56 years old when he ascended the throne in January 1989 after the death of his father, Emperor Hirohito.

They are expected to move to Togu Palace where the crown prince and his family now live, and the new emperor's family will move to the Imperial Palace, said the bill.

Earlier in February, Naruhito had expressed his readiness to take over the throne, and pledged to follow his father's footsteps and "share the pain and joy of the people".

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