Support for Japan PM Fukuda sinks to 46 pct -poll

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TOKYO, Oct 22 (Reuters) Support for Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda has dropped more than 10 percentage points to 46 per cent, a newspaper poll showed on Monday, a result likely to dampen prospects for an early general election.

In a poll carried out by the Mainichi Shimbun on Oct 20-21, 46 per cent of respondents said they supported Fukuda, down 11 percentage points from the paper's previous survey conducted last month just after Fukuda assumed office.

The poll result was similar to that of a survey conducted by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper last week.

The share of those who do not support the prime minister inched up five percentage points to 30 per cent, while the rest was indifferent.

The survey also showed that voters were divided on a government plan to continue a naval mission supporting US-led military operations in Afghanistan, with 48 per cent of respondents supporting it and 43 per cent against it.

The split over the mission, which Washington wants Tokyo to continue, come as parliamentary debate over the extention is set to start on Tuesday and amid media reports that a former top defence official had been colluding with a military contractor.

Opposition parties, which control the upper house, have vowed to vote down a government bill to extend the mission, under which Japan provides fuel and water to US and other ships policing the Indian Ocean against drugs and arms smugglers and terrorists.

The ruling bloc can override the upper house vote with its two-thirds majority in the more powerful lower house, but it may be reluctant to resort to this without strong public support.

Defence Minister Shigeru Ishiba told Reuters last week that the ruling camp would need voter backing of at least 60 per cent to use their lower house majority to pass the bill.

The opposition are also demanding sworn testimony in parliament by former vice defence minister Takemasa Moriya over media reports that he was entertained by a defence contractor and also over persistent speculation that oil provided for US ships had been diverted for use in Iraq.

Although an election for the lower house need not be held until late 2009, parliamentary deadlock over the naval mission could trigger a snap election earlier.

The Mainichi survey, which collected responses from 1,064 voters, showed that support for the Fukuda's ruling Liberal Democratic Party and the main opposition Democratic Party both stood at 27 per cent.

Reuters RKM VP0725

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