The Japanese government is reportedly planning to replace Emperor Akihito with his eldest son in two years as it works on a legal framework for the first abdication of emperorship in two centuries.
Major Japanese national dailies reported the development on Wednesday, citing unnamed government sources.
The 83-year-old Akihito suggested last August his desire to relinquish the throne, expressing concerns that his old age and deteriorating health might interfere with his ability to fully carry out his duties. Abdication, however, is not possible under current Japanese law.
The Japanese dailies also reported that the 56-year-old Crown Prince Naruhito would succeed his father in January 1, 2019.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga refused to comment on the widely-publicized press reports during his regular news conference on Wednesday.
Following Akihito’s announcement last summer, Tokyo established a panel of experts to help decide the best route to deal with the process as the issue is fraught with historical and legal challenges.
The six-member panel has discussed various legal options, with growing speculation that it would suggest the legislative passage of a special one-time law to allow Akihito to step down.
The leading opposition Democratic Party, however, opposes a one-time change, arguing that it would not address stable future successions. It has advocated a revision to the permanent law that governs the imperial family.
Meanwhile, some scholars and politicians have expressed concerns that the abdication issue may open a can of worms and risk Japan’s monarchs — constitutionally limited to serving as the symbol of the nation — becoming subject to political manipulation.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government plans to submit a bill to the next ordinary session of the Japanese parliament later this month for special legislation that would enable the emperor to abdicate.