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Abe leads Japan PM race, opposition fortunes fade

Written by: Staff

Tokyo, March 27: Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe is far in front of ruling party rivals in the race to become Japan's next prime minister, a survey showed today, though voters appear to like his style better than his policies.

The poll by the Nihon Keizai newspaper also highlighted the pounding suffered by opposition Democratic Party leader Seiji Maehara after his party admitted it could not prove allegations of shady links between a ruling party leader and disgraced former Internet executive Takafumi Horie.

The 51-year-old Abe, a tall, soft-spoken political blueblood known for his elegant attire as well as his hawkish views towards China and North Korea, topped the list of politicians voters say they want to see succeed Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, who is set to step down in September.

Forty percent of respondents to the March 24-26 poll backed Abe, while 14 percent preferred veteran Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yasuo Fukuda. Fukuda, 69, has emerged as a critic of Koizumi's Asian diplomacy which has chilled ties with China and South Korea because of his annual visits to Tokyo's Yasukuni shrine, seen by critics as a symbol of Japan's past militarism.

Asked, however, why they preferred Abe, 52 percent of his supporters cited his personality and image, and only 22 per cent mentioned his stance on foreign policy and security matters -- a pattern that was reversed among those backing Fukuda.

Popularity will be a key factor when the ruling LDP votes on Koizumi's successor as party president, a position that virtually guarantees the premiership by virtue of the LDP's majority in parliament's lower house.

Democratic Party leader Maehara, 43, fared abysmally in the survey, with only 1 per cent of respondents citing him as their choice for prime minister. Even among Democratic Party supporters, a mere 2 per cent backed their party chief for the nation's top job.

Democratic Party lawmaker Hisayasu Nagata had alleged in parliament that Horie, former CEO of scandal-hit Livedoor Co, had ordered company officials via email to pay 30 million yen in consulting fees to the son of LDP Secretary General Tsutomu Takebe.

Maehara -- who himself faces a re-election battle in September -- played up the allegations, and the Democrats' later admission that the email was false turned what had looked like a golden political opportunity into a fiasco.


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