TOKYO, Oct 10 (Reuters) Most Japanese voters are happy with moderate 71-year-old Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, a poll showed today, as he sets out on a more cautious policy tack than his hawkish predecessor, Shinzo Abe.
But Taro Aso, who fought Fukuda in the September ruling Liberal Democratic Party leadership race and then turned down a place in his cabinet, praised Abe and vowed to lead a ''conservative revival'' in an essay published the same day.
Almost 60 per cent of Japanese voters support Fukuda, many of them saying his stability appeals to them, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun poll. More than half of those polled said they wanted Fukuda to stay in office for two years or more, the paper said.
Fukuda made no mention in his first policy speech to parliament last week of Abe's pet ideas of ''building a beautiful nation'' by encouraging patriotism in schools, revising the pacifist constitution and forging a higher military profile overseas.
''I don't think conservativism is fading away,'' said Jeff Kingston, Director of Asian Studies at Temple University's Tokyo campus. ''But I don't think people are very keen on the flavour of conservatism represented by Abe and Aso.'' Fukuda and his cabinet have turned a sympathetic ear to protests by Okinawan leaders angered by the removal of references in school textbooks to the military's role in mass suicides on the island near the end of World War Two -- changes made under Abe earlier this year.
In a parliamentary committee this week, Fukuda was cautious on ''collective self-defence,'' the ability to come to the aid of an ally under attack, which Abe had hoped to approve, media said.
Japan Conference, the country's biggest conservative pressure group, which has hundreds of lawmakers among its members, has expressed dissatisfaction with Fukuda.
''I am afraid he will reverse the flow we have seen so far,'' former supreme court judge Toru Miyoshi, the head of the group, told a 3000-strong rally marking its 10th anniversary at the weekend, the Mainichi Shimbun said.
CONSERVATIVE REVIVAL? Aso, who lost the leadership election by a smaller margin than predicted and has since kept a low profile, came out flying the conservative flag today in an essay published in Bungei Shunju, a current affairs monthly.
''Mr Fukuda and I are at opposite ends of the party in terms of our views on history and diplomacy,'' he said in the piece, which praised Abe's policies and said national pride was the most important issue for Japan.
''It goes without saying that I will fight for the conservative revival as many times as it takes,'' he said.
If Fukuda's popularity holds, the main opposition Democrats could be the biggest losers. Many voters opted for the Democrats in a July upper house election to express their anger at a run of cabinet gaffes, financial scandals and mis-steps under Abe.
''The people who are most regretting Abe's departure clearly are the Democrats,'' Kingston said. ''He was going to be their perfect punching bag.'' Along with their smaller allies, the Democrats now control the less powerful upper house of parliament, but their support rates are slipping, the poll showed.
Support for the LDP rose to 38 per cent from about 29 per cent in the previous poll a month earlier, the paper said, while Democratic support sagged to 18 per cent from almost 21 per cent.
REUTERS SZ KP1151