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A majority of respondents to a recent Kyodo News survey say they want Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe to replace Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi when the ruling Liberal Democratic Party elects a new leader in September.

Of the 1,018 respondents to the survey, 51.9 percent named Abe as the most appropriate person to succeed Koizumi, followed by Yasuo Fukuda, former chief Cabinet secretary, who garnered 22.1 percent, a sharp increase from a similar survey last year.

Support for Foreign Minister Taro Aso and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki, two other LDP lawmakers seen as candidates to be the next prime minister, was 5.8 percent and 2.9 percent respectively.

As a similar Kyodo survey conducted last Oct. 31 and Nov. 1 put support for Abe at 51.9 percent and that for Fukuda at 9.7 percent, the latest survey shows Fukuda is making gains while Abe’s popularity remains solid.

Fukuda is known to favor a dovish diplomatic approach toward China and other Asian countries.

The latest survey also found that support for the Koizumi Cabinet fell 7.3 percentage points from a previous survey earlier this month to 47.2 percent, slipping below the 50 percent line for the first time since August.

In contrast, support for the opposition Democratic Party of Japan rose to 19.9 percent, up from 11.3 percent in late February, when the party was reeling from a botched attack on the LDP on the basis of a bogus e-mail message.