TOKYO, Feb. 8 (UPI) -- A baby yet unborn is proving to be the source of Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's biggest domestic headache over the past two days.
The Imperial Household Agency announced Tuesday that Princess Kiko, the 39-year-old wife of Prince Akishino, who is the younger brother of Crown Prince Naruhito and second in line to the Chrysanthemum throne, is pregnant.
News of a baby on the way should have been greeted with joy nationwide, but instead, it fanned the flames of the ongoing debate on whether or not Japan should allow a woman to succeed the throne.
Over the past few years, Koizumi has been pressing for a revision in the Imperial succession law which does not allow a female heir. In recent months, he has been pressing particularly hard to push through legislative reform so that the Crown Prince's only child will be able to reign upon her father's death. The prime minister had convened a group of experts to present a report to the cabinet on whether or not the law should be changed, and the panel reported at the end of the year that the firstborn of the person tapped to be the head should be crowned, regardless of whether it is a boy or a girl.
For the problem under the current imperial law has been that no boy has been born to the imperial family for four decades. Crown Prince Naruhito and Princess Masako have one daughter, Aiko, but most royalty watchers agree that Masako is unlikely to bear another child. Meanwhile, Prince Akishino and his wife currently have two daughters, so neither son has yet produced an heir to the throne.
Koizumi's plan has been to take that finding and present it to the Diet by early March, and hopefully push through the change within the current parliamentary session. Or at least that was his plan until the announcement of the latest pregnancy.
News that Princess Kiko is now with child has given renewed strength to those who are opposed to having a female head of the imperial family. While public opinion has largely supported legislative change to allow Aiko to be empress, with an Asahi Shimbun newspaper poll finding nearly 80 percent of those surveyed supporting the prospect of a female ruler, many members of parliament and relatives of Emperor Akihito have made it clear that they remain strongly opposed to allowing the legislation to be changed so swiftly.
For his part, Koizumi made clear in a parliamentary session Wednesday that he will continue to push for Aiko to succeed her father.
"The current system, if unchanged, won't allow Princess Aiko to ascend to the imperial throne," he said, adding that the four-year-old girl will "soon reach school age. It will be a major issue for Princess Aiko whether she is educated on the premise that she won't become empress or be conscious of the fact of becoming empress one day."
Meanwhile, it is still too early to tell whether or not the expectant mother will be delivering a boy or a girl, as she is not expected to give birth until autumn. If the baby is a girl, then the debate over whether or not the imperial law should be changed will continue. If it is a boy, then he will be third in line to the throne after his uncle and his father.