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Poll shows Japanese want snap elections

Thursday, September 04, 2008

By JAY ALABASTER, Associated Press Writer

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TOKYO — 

Two new candidates indicated Thursday they would join the race to replace Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda after his abrupt resignation this week, but a new poll suggests voters want their say in national elections.

The Asahi, a major newspaper, said 56 percent of Japanese are in favor of dissolving parliament and holding general elections "as soon as possible," according to a telephone poll of 1,069 people it conducted Tuesday and Wednesday.

Only 43 percent supported quick elections in an Asahi poll taken just before Fukuda abruptly said Monday that he would step down after less than a year in office, and poll results show many feel Fukuda was irresponsible in leaving his post so quickly. The poll did not give a margin of sampling error.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party, which has been reluctant to call new elections, effectively picks the prime minister from within its ranks because it holds a majority in the powerful lower house of parliament.

The party has announced that it will choose a new leader on Sept. 22, and parliament was expected to install their choice as prime minister after it reconvenes on Sept. 24.

Speculation over which party members would enter the race began immediately after Fukuda made his surprise announcement, and on Thursday several put their name forward.

Taro Aso, an outspoken and popular former foreign minister, has indicated a strong desire to run and is considered by analysts to be the favorite. The current LDP secretary-general is a foreign policy hawk whose comments have drawn the ire of Japan's neighbors.

His popularity was underscored by the Asahi poll and a separate telephone poll by Kyoto News Agency released Wednesday. Both showed he was the clear popular favorite for prime minister.

Although voters in Japan don't directly elect the prime minister, Aso's popularity with the public was seen as a major plus for him because having a popular prime minister could help the party if elections are called.

Even so, Aso is seen as a prickly choice by some _ he was among the final candidates when the party chose its two previous prime ministers, Fukuda and Shinzo Abe, but was hindered by his hard-line nationalism.

Fukuda and Abe bowed out quietly within a year, and were afforded none of the rousing support that carried Japan's previous leader Junichiro Koizumi through a tenure that lasted more than five years.

Nobuteru Ishihara, the son of Tokyo's governor, said Thursday he would run against Aso if no other candidates emerged as challengers.

"I'm on the opposite end of the political spectrum from Secretary-General Aso," he said. "So I have to create opportunities to speak from that stance."

Yuriko Koike, a former defense minister and TV anchorwoman, was widely reported to be considering entering her name, and said Thursday she was consulting with political allies. Economic Minister Kaoru Yosano also said Thursday he will seek the position.

None of the ruling party's candidates were expected to dramatically stray from the economic and diplomatic policies that Fukuda pursued, although Aso's nationalist stance could affect international relations.

Fukuda went out of his way to improve relations with China and his administration made progress in resolving a dispute over kidnapped citizens with North Korea.

In contrast, Aso wrote a best-selling book in support of Japan taking a more aggressive stance on the world stage, has suggested that Taiwan benefited from being colonized by Japan, and has drawn protests from Beijing for saying that China is a military threat.

Reviving the economy was expected to be a major initial goal, and Fukuda just announced a stimulus package that has yet to be implemented.

But opposition in parliament to ruling party legislation is high, and government business has been in a deadlock for more than a year because the leading opposition group, the Democratic Party of Japan, is blocking most bills and calling for nationwide elections to test the public mandate.

Parliamentary elections must be held by next September at the latest.

But the Liberal Democrats, who have controlled Japan's government for most of the post-World War II period, are thought to be vulnerable because of the unpopularity of Fukuda and Abe.

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