Japan on Friday approved a bill that will allow Emperor Akihito to hand over the Chrysanthemum throne to his heir, Naruhito.
The bill, which will make it possible to circumvent the imperial law that currently prevents the Emperor from abdicating, was approved during a cabinet meeting, Efe news reported. If approved, this will be the first abdication of a Japanese emperor in 200 years, when Emperor Kokaku stepped down in 1817.
The law will be sent to parliament later in the day, where the government hopes it will be approved without further obstruction by mid-June. The government believes that the ideal moment for the abdication is in December 2018, when the Emperor turns 85 and completes three decades as head of state.
The bill has been designed specifically for Akihito in order to prevent future abdications, given the problems facing the imperial family regarding its succession line.
The bill is one-off legislation that would allow only Akihito to step down, with no provisions for future emperors.
It also makes no reference to the controversial issue of changing the system to allow women to inherit the throne, or to stay in the imperial family upon marriage, Japanese media said, although political parties are discussing a separate resolution on the topic.
Both steps have been suggested as ways to deal with a shortage of male heirs and a shrinking pool of royals generally, a problem thrust back into the limelight this week, with news that Akihito’s eldest granddaughter will marry a commoner, after which she too must become a commoner.
There are only four heirs in the line of succession – Akihito’s two middle-aged sons, Akihito’s octogenarian brother, and Hisahito, the 10-year-old son of Akihito’s younger son. The crown prince has one teenage daughter, Aiko, who cannot inherit the throne.