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Japan's one-off abdication law is a divisive issue

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Panel: Special law for Emperor Akihito is low-risk approach

A government panel on Monday issued a report heavily in favour of a one-time law that enables Emperor Akihito to abdicate, an act barred by Japan's Imperial Household Law.

It did not reach an explicit conclusion in the 13-page document, but it cited 23 points to prove why a permanent law could be problematic.

It said a special law is a low-risk approach, as "careful deliberations can be made in the Diet each time to reflect the will of the people and the situation at the time".

This is said to be the preference of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's conservative administration too, and the right-leaning daily Yomiuri said in an editorial on Tuesday that the report should be used as a "basis to convince the public".

But the issue has been divisive, with left-leaning parties said to favour a permanent law - and deeper discussions that bring the archaic Imperial Household Law up to date.

The liberal Asahi daily said in an editorial yesterday: "The panel's report raises a number of questions in the light of logic, common sense and developments."

There are issues, given the lack of male heirs, surrounding the sustainability of restricting succession to males in the paternal lineage.

The panel appears determined not to "open the Pandora's box of revising the Imperial Household Law", said political watcher Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University.

A one-time law would be an easy way to skirt the issue, he said, noting that the idea of female succession is gaining traction in Japan.

But it is deeply unpopular among Mr Abe's support base, which he said has "patriarchal inclinations".

English daily Japan Times also weighed in on Sunday, urging a deeper debate: "The shortage of male successors in line to the throne remains little changed."

Such sidelined issues will come back to haunt Japan, it said, "even if the present issue is resolved through legislation applied only to the current emperor".