Abdication becoming more frequent in the modern age

STEP DOWN. This combination of file pictures shows Pope Benedict XVI, Spanish King Juan Carlos de Borbon, Japan’s Emperor Akihito, Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, Princess Beatrix of the Netherlands, and King Albert II of Belgium. Photos by Carl Court, Claudio Santana, Kamir Jaafar, John Thys, Esteban Felix, Kazuhiro Nogi, Al-Watan Doha. (AFP pic)

TOKYO: When the 85-year-old Japanese Emperor Akihito steps down on Tuesday, Apr 30, it will be the latest in a string of historic abdications that have included the pope and several monarchs.

As medical technology improves and lifespans grow, the concept of a lifetime of duty is gradually being eroded and abdications are becoming increasingly acceptable and frequent.

Here are some other recent abdications.

Non habemus papam

On Feb 11, 2013, Pope Benedict XVI stunned the world with an announcement that he was stepping down due to ill health, the first pontiff to abdicate for medical reasons in 700 years.

In a speech in Latin at the Vatican, the 85-year-old German-born Benedict told cardinals that “due to an advanced age” his strength was “no longer suited to an adequate exercise” of his post.

Benedict, who suffered from arthritis and had a stroke while he was still a cardinal, eventually stepped aside on Feb 28, sparking an outpouring of emotion from the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics.

The only previous pope to step down because he considered himself unable to continue was Celestine V, a simple hermit elected against his will in 1294.

His decision to back out sparked derision and Italian poet Dante Alighieri famously condemned him in “The Divine Comedy” to spend eternity in hell’s antechamber for his “cowardice” in making “the great refusal”.