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ANALYSIS: Princess's pregnancy overshadows plan to allow female monarchs+
[February 07, 2006]

ANALYSIS: Princess's pregnancy overshadows plan to allow female monarchs+

(Japan Economic Newswire Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)TOKYO, Feb. 8_(Kyodo) _ The pregnancy of Princess Kiko, the wife of Emperor Akihito's second son Prince Akishino, has thrown into doubt the fate of a government bill to allow females and their descendants to ascend Japan's imperial throne.

The news, announced Tuesday, comes at a time when some Diet members and academics have been intensifying their calls for the government to take a cautious approach to the planned submission of the bill to revise the Imperial House Law during the current Diet session through June 18.

Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who heads the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, however, shrugged off the development's possible effects on the bill, which is aimed at revising the 1947 law that limits ascension to the throne to only males with emperors on their fathers' side.

After hearing the news, Koizumi said his government will maintain its policy of submitting the bill during the current Diet session.

According to a Kyodo News survey, more than 70 percent of Japanese people polled are in favor of a female ascending the throne.

But a senior LDP member said to be close to Koizumi appeared pessimistic about the bill being enacted by the June 18 end of the Diet session.

"Practically speaking, we have no option but to wait (until a baby is born)," said the official, who declined to be identified.

Yasuhiro Okudaira, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo, said, "If the baby is a male, I don't think that even the LDP could implement a revision. It (the government) would lose the ground on which a bill to revise the law is built."

The government plans to base the revision on a government panel report on imperial succession which proposed to Koizumi in November allowing female monarchs and their descendants to reign as a way to ensure "stable succession."

No male heir has been born into the imperial family since the birth of Prince Akishino in 1965 and there has been speculation that Crown Princess Masako, 42, is suffering from pressure to produce a male heir.

"The panel reached the conclusion apparently based on the assumption that this kind of thing would not happen," Okudaira said.

Crown Princess Masako, a Harvard and Oxford-educated former diplomat, and Crown Prince Naruhito, 45, has only a daughter, Princess Aiko, 4.

Okudaira said the pregnancy of Princess Kiko will also provide those against the succession bill with a reason to block the government from submitting it.

Now such forces can even argue Crown Princess Masako may also bear another child, Okudaira added.

Concerns that the government should take a more cautious approach to the issue have been growing recently among conservative Diet members and a few Cabinet ministers.

Takeo Hiranuma, chairman of a nonpartisan group of conservative Diet members and a House of Representatives member, said after hearing the news of the pregnancy that the government should "refrain from rushing toward a revision as there is a possibility of a male being born."

The Diet Members' Committee of Japan Conference said Wednesday last week that a total of 173 lawmakers, including 135 from the LDP, have signed a petition against hastily revising the Imperial House Law.

Following the news of Princess Kiko's pregnancy, senior LDP members such as the party's upper house secretary general Toranosuke Katayama also floated the idea of shelving discussion of the issue until the baby is born, which is expected to be in September or October.

Meanwhile, Keiichiro Kobori, a professor emeritus at the University of Tokyo and head of a group of academics and critics opposed to revision of the law, said the government should decide to stop submitting the bill now.

"We have been saying the government was rushing too much. Look what happened," Kobori said.

Conservative politicians and academics have been concerned that allowing a female monarch to reign under the revised law would put an end to the imperial line which they say has been preserved unbroken for more than 2,000 years by passing on the throne only to male-line heirs.

Kobori also said the group will continue to call for the government to consider ways to preserve the male-line tradition such as by allowing males of the imperial branch families divested of royal status to return, now that the government has been "afforded time" to discuss the issue further.

An official close to the government panel on imperial succession expressed concern that the news of the pregnancy may result in discussions of the imperial succession being postponed.

But the official said the crisis over the male-line succession will remain unchanged even if a male heir is born.

"In any case, the number of imperial successors is short. The crisis that the imperial line will die out under the current male-line (rule) has not changed," the official said.

Okudaira of the University of Tokyo questioned the current imperial system as it is largely influenced by uncontrollable elements, such as whether an heir must be a male or a female.

"As we have found out how fragile this system is, I want to say, let's start having a more fundamental debate on the issue -- about the emperor system itself," he said.

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