• Kyodo News

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Prime Minister Naoto Kan continued to enjoy the support of a majority of voters as the preferred leader of the ruling Democratic Party of Japan ahead of Tuesday’s presidential election against party kingpin Ichiro Ozawa, an opinion poll showed Saturday.

The telephone survey conducted Thursday and Friday showed 67.3 percent of those polled backed Kan to 22.8 percent for Ozawa, a former DPJ secretary general. This compared with the previous survey held two weeks ago, when Kan had the backing of 69.9 percent and Ozawa 15.6 percent.

Public support for Kan’s Cabinet rose to 54.7 percent from 48.1 percent, while the disapproval rate dropped 4.7 percentage points to 31.5 percent.

The latest survey, carried out on 1,454 randomly selected voters nationwide, of whom 1,010 gave valid answers, clearly showed dissatisfaction among the public with the explanations Ozawa has given about a political funds scandal in which he has been embroiled.

As many as 84.6 percent of the respondents said they were not convinced by what Ozawa has said regarding the scandal, a result that political observers say could influence swing voters among DPJ lawmakers.

On Tuesday, judicial sources said an independent judicial panel had recently begun its second review of decisions by prosecutors not to indict Ozawa over false financial reporting by his political fund management body.

Ozawa has made it clear that even if he becomes prime minister after winning the DPJ leadership election and faces mandatory indictment after the panel’s latest review, he would step forward and stand trial to prove his innocence. He could avoid being prosecuted on the basis of a constitutional interpretation that the prime minister should not be prosecuted without his own consent.

Asked which of the candidates would perform better in helping to improve economic and employment issues, 50.5 percent picked Kan, while 31.0 percent named Ozawa. As for handling the divided Diet, where a DPJ-led coalition controls the Lower House but lacks a majority in the upper chamber, 36.7 percent thought Kan would do better coping with the situation, marginally higher than the 36.6 percent Ozawa received.

In relation to Cabinet support, topping the list of reasons for backing Kan’s Cabinet with 46.5 percent was the lack of suitable alternatives for the prime minister’s post. The main reason cited for disapproval was low expectations of its economic policies, at 36.2 percent.

Ozawa, however, is believed to wield his clout more powerfully than Kan, as 44.8 percent said the DPJ will be able to achieve its goal of reducing the power of bureaucrats if Ozawa becomes prime minister. Kan got support from 42.6 percent on the matter.

When it comes to the entire set of pledges the DPJ delivered before last year’s general election, which brought the party into power, 66.9 percent backed Kan, who has expressed his intention to revise the manifesto, while 24.4 percent favored Ozawa, who aims to stick to the campaign pledges.

Among other items that featured in the survey, higher support for Ozawa over Kan came on their respective policies over tax and U.S. military base issues. Ozawa is critical of Kan’s proposal to push ahead with discussion of a consumption tax hike, and is calling for renegotiating a Japan-U.S. agreement reached in May to move U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture.

Support for major political parties stood at 38.2 percent for the DPJ, up 5.6 points, and 23.7 percent for the Liberal Democratic Party, down 1 point.

They are followed by 10.5 percent for Your Party, 4.1 percent for New Komeito, 3 percent for the Japanese Communist Party, 1.3 percent for the Social Democratic Party, and 0.8 percent each for Kokumin Shinto (People’s New Party) and Tachiagare Nippon (Sunrise Party of Japan). The survey also found 14.3 percent support no particular party.

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