• Kyodo News

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More than 60 percent of people want Ichiro Ozawa to resign as head of the Democratic Party of Japan over the fundraising scandal that led to the arrest of his chief secretary, a poll showed Sunday.

In a telephone survey conducted Saturday and Sunday by Kyodo News, 61.1 percent of the respondents said Ozawa should quit as DPJ leader, while 28.9 percent said he should stay on.

The poll also found that the support rate for the Cabinet of Prime Minister Taro Aso increased to 16.0 percent, edging 2.6 percentage points higher than in the previous poll Feb. 17 to 18. The disapproval rate was down 5.8 points to 70.8 percent.

The survey, conducted by randomly choosing telephone numbers, received valid responses from 1,032 people.

It was Kyodo’s first public survey since Ozawa’s chief secretary, Takanori Okubo, was arrested Tuesday on suspicion of taking illegal corporate donations from organizations linked to general contractor Nishimatsu Construction Co.

Ozawa has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and insists he has no intention of stepping down as party president.

Okubo’s arrest is considered a serious blow to the DPJ’s bid to seize power from the LDP-led coalition in a general election that must be held by this fall. Before the scandal emerged, Ozawa was seen as likely to become prime minister given that the LDP — led by the deeply unpopular Aso — appeared to be heading toward defeat.

The survey showed that 43.5 percent of the respondents want a government led by the DPJ, compared with 31.6 percent who would prefer an LDP-led government. In the previous survey, 53.4 percent preferred the DPJ, to 28.1 percent for the LDP.

Asked who is most suitable to be prime minister, 33.6 percent chose Ozawa, a dip of 12.8 points. But he still beat out Aso, who got 25.6 percent with a rise of 5.2 points.

The LDP, which has governed Japan for more than half a century apart from a brief time out of power, has also been implicated in the donations scandal.

The investigation by prosecutors has reportedly been spilling over to LDP lawmakers, including Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Toshihiro Nikai, a key figure in Aso’s Cabinet, although he has denied the allegation.

Also on Sunday, the Mainichi Shimbun reported that its poll found some 57 percent of respondents said Ozawa should step down, compared with 33 percent who see his resignation as unnecessary.

The Mainichi survey covered 1,686 households nationwide, with 1,032 people responding.

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