“Do not make a parapet out of the throne.”
In 1913, “god of constitutional government” Ozaki Yukio wrote those words that now apply perfectly to the debate surrounding the possible abdication of the Heisei Emperor.
A “parapet,” or “breastworks,” is a wall or fort built chest-high as a defense against bow-and-arrow attacks. With this pithy phrase, Ozaki was issuing a stern warning against those who pretended to be following the emperor’s royal will, but who were actually using the emperor’s authority as a way to hide their ulterior motives.
The same dangers were at play under the Meiji Constitution. Article 4 of the current Constitution states, “The Emperor shall perform only such acts in matters of state as are provided for in this Constitution and he shall not have powers related to government.”
In remarks made before the budget committee of the lower house of the Japanese Diet last January 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said, partially quoting Ozaki: “When the words of His Majesty are quoted during debates on the floor of the Diet, this must be done with the utmost care. This is because there is the great danger that quoting His Majesty will be a way to turn the throne into a parapet.”
It is in this sense that we may evaluate the final report submitted to Prime Minister Abe on April 21 by a committee of government authorities.
In August 2016, His Majesty the Emperor made remarks about his “sentiments,” which seemed to suggest strongly his desire to abdicate the throne. In light of the imperial house’s long history, the August report very soberly advances recommendations as to what the emperor’s post-abdication position, title, and so forth should be. One can imagine that it must have required an extraordinary balancing act to arrive at a single conclusion on this subject while taking into account both the Constitution and the state of public opinion.
Over the course of the debate, the committee was attacked by members of the Democratic Party of Japan, demanding that His Majesty’s words be incorporated more directly into the final report. For example, chief secretary Yoshihiko Noda said, “[The committee] is carrying out deliberations directly opposed to what the Emperor said,” while former acting party leader Goshi Hosono remarked that “a select committee with no authority whatsoever is unilaterally going to decide the direction to be taken on this.”
The chairman and vice chairman from both the upper and lower houses of the Diet proceeded with their work with the greatest care. They waited for the various political parties to arrange and assemble the views of their members. They took breaks to form a consensus of opinion, lest the country become deeply divided over the issue.
However, regardless of how much one might assent to the report itself and to the process by which it was drafted, he must also bear in mind how very unusual the starting point of the current abdication debate actually was.
One member of the select committee forthrightly said: “His Majesty’s sentiments were expressed in a most irregular fashion. I believe that every member of the committee was conscious, on some level, of the Emperor’s expression’s having been in violation of the Constitution.”
Another committee member said: “In order to avoid useless conflicts and to prevent the introduction of any element of arbitrary decision making, it has been the wisdom of our predecessors, ever since the Meiji Period, that there is to be no imperial succession unless the Emperor currently on the throne passes away. However, His Majesty’s words have opened up Pandora’s Box (which had been closed in order to seal up the calamities kept inside).”
His Imperial Majesty has been mentioning to his advisory council since 2010 his desire to abdicate the throne. Nevertheless, because the Imperial Household Agency failed to communicate those sentiments to the Prime Minister’s office, the situation is now such that the Emperor’s public statement about his sentiments has left the indelible impression of a constitutional violation.
The entire constitutional issue could have been avoided had the Imperial Household Agency and the Prime Minister’s office consulted quietly with one another, made the necessary arrangements, and allowed the Cabinet to make a public, independent pronouncement that it would be undertaking considerations regarding the Emperor’s possible abdication.
The current situation cannot be allowed to become precedent, such that future emperors express their “sentiments” and abdicate one after the other. If this happens, then there will surely arise, as Ozaki pointed out, those who “snipe at their political opponents while hiding in the shadows of the imperial throne.”
If this should happen, it will not signal merely an administrative battle, but will also threaten the very stability of the entire nation.
Rui Abiru is the Sankei Shimbun’s editorial Writer and political section editing committee member
(Click here to read the original article in Japanese)