Former defense chief Shigeru Ishiba is the most popular choice to be the nation's next prime minister, gaining 34.3 percent of support and far outpacing other potential candidates, according to a Kyodo News survey released Sunday.

Ishiba, who has been a rare critic of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's administration, was followed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga with 14.3 percent, Defense Minister Taro Kono with 13.6 percent, Environment Minister Shinjiro Koizumi with 10.1 percent and LDP policy chief Fumio Kishida with 7.5 percent.

The nationwide telephone poll, conducted in the wake of Abe's announcement of his resignation on Friday for health reasons, found that 48 percent plan to vote for the ruling Liberal Democratic Party in a next Lower House election under the proportional representation system.