• Kyodo News

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The House of Representatives passed a bill Thursday to upgrade the Defense Agency into a ministry in January, moving the measure closer to full passage this month.

The bill is now expected to clear the Diet during its current session after only 14-plus hours of deliberations by the Lower House Security Committee, due in part to a boycott by the opposition camp demanding a grilling of the government over a bid-rigging scandal involving senior officials of the Defense Facilities Administration Agency.

The measure cleared the Security Committee and the Lower House plenary session Thursday afternoon on the strength of a majority held by the ruling coalition of the Liberal Democratic Party and New Komeito.

The bill is now expected to clear the House of Councilors before the Diet ends Dec. 15.

While the Social Democratic Party and Japanese Communist Party oppose the bill, the Democratic Party of Japan opted to support it as the Lower House panel, at the DPJ’s request, adopted a resolution calling for strict civilian control on defense issues.

Under the bill, the Defense Agency director general — a post held by a state minister — would be the defense minister with a similar level of authority as other Cabinet ministers, including having the power to call a Cabinet meeting, pursue new legislation and directly send budget requests to the Finance Ministry.

Proposals to upgrade the agency have persisted since its 1954 start but have so far failed amid widespread public aversion to the militaristic past that led Japan to war.

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