TOKYO -- After just seven meetings, a government-appointed panel on Emperor Akihito's potential abdication basically agreed that establishing a permanent framework would be too difficult and that granting a one-time exception was the better option. This seems like an awfully quick decision for such a momentous issue.
More worrying than the lack of time spent on the debate is that the public does not know how robust the exchanges were. The emperor is "the symbol of the State and of the unity of the People," according to Japan's constitution. It would only be natural that the idea of him stepping down would lead to heated discussions. And experts whose opinions were sought by the panel held deeply divided views.
Before the panel was even convened, media reports were saying that the government wanted a one-time exception applying only to Akihito. The panel asked many questions regarding this idea when listening to expert opinions, suggesting that the decision had already been made.
Any future emperor can encounter problems due to advanced age. A one-time fix would deal only with the situation currently at hand with Akihito. Creating a permanent framework for abdication does not mean that all future emperors must eventually relinquish the throne, but would simply make the option available if they wish. It is one-sided to focus on the risks of crippling the system, or worse, that the emperor would step down arbitrarily or even be forced out -- a highly unlikely scenario.
We have not yet heard the opinions of those familiar with Akihito's work or from younger generations. Further discussion is necessary to ensure the panel is not seen as an empty body that is merely following the government's instructions.