Japan’s parliament passed a law on Friday that clears the way for its ageing Emperor Akihito to step down, in what would be the first imperial abdication in more than two centuries.
The popular 83-year-old monarch shocked the country in summer 2016 when he signalled his desire to take a back seat after nearly three decades on the Chrysanthemum Throne, citing his age and health problems.
The unexpected move presented a challenge since there was no law to deal with an emperor retiring from what is usually a job for life.
The one-off rule was passed in the last-stage upper house on Friday in a unanimous decision after the lower chamber gave its stamp of approval last week.
The abdication must take place within three years of the new law taking effect or it expires — and it only applies to Akihito.
Japanese media have said the government is eyeing the end of 2018 as a likely timeline for his retirement.
The status of the emperor is sensitive in Japan given its 20th century history of war waged in the name of Akihito’s father Hirohito, who died in 1989.
Some scholars and politicians worried that changing the law to allow any emperor to abdicate could put Japan’s future monarchs at risk of being subject to political manipulation.