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Japan panel OKs emperor’s abdication, skirts succession

Mari Yamaguchi
Associated Press

Tokyo 0— A Japanese government panel on Friday endorsed Emperor Akihito’s apparent desire to abdicate as an exception, but avoided a key question of succession amid a declining royal population.

The six-member advisory panel in its final report proposed allowing Akihito to abdicate under legislation that would be specially drafted only for him, to prevent future emperors from easily following suit.

The report detailed procedures such as the title, status and roles for an abdicated emperor and his heir, but avoided divisive issues such as whether women should be included in the current male-only succession amid concerns about the shrinking royal population, including successors to the throne.

Last August, the 83-year-old Akihito expressed his apparent wish to abdicate, citing his age and health. The elder of the two sons, Crown Prince Naruhito, is first in line to the Chrysanthemum throne.

The government will now write legislation for a parliamentary approval.

Akihito would be the first emperor to abdicate in 200 years. Media reports say officials are considering his abdication at the end of next year, when Akihito turns 85 and marks 30 years on the throne.

Akihito’s possible abdication highlights the larger issue of aging royals and a shortage of successors in Japan’s 2,000-year-old monarchy — concerns also reflected in wider Japan’s aging and declining population.

Akihito has another son, who is six years younger than the crown prince, but only one of his four grandchildren is male.

Under the current Imperial House law, only male descendants can inherit the title, and female members are stripped of their royal status when they marry a commoner.

Ultra-conservative lawmakers of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ruling party, which dominates the Japanese parliament, oppose changing the practice as the model of the patriarchal Japanese society. However, liberal-leaning academics and lawmakers favor a broader change to the succession rules to modernize social values and make the monarchy sustainable.