Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda is preferred to win the ruling Democratic Party of Japan’s Sept. 21 leadership race, while support in the contest to head the main opposition is split, a Yomiuri newspaper poll today showed.
Noda has 45 percent support, with nearest rival Kazuhiro Haraguchi at 14 percent, the poll showed. In the Sept. 26 contest to lead the Liberal Democratic Party, ex-Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba is backed by 28 percent of the general public, while party Secretary-General Nobuteru Ishihara has 22 percent and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe 19 percent, the poll showed. Voting is limited in both races to party members.
“Noda’s getting stuff done,” said Steven Reed, professor of political science at Chuo University in Tokyo. “If you are a supporter of the party, why would you want anyone else as leader?”
Political gridlock and an economy burdened by record debt as it recovers from last year’s earthquake and nuclear disaster have undermined support for both parties ahead of an election Noda has pledged to call “soon.” Public discontent has increased the chances that a third force led by Osaka Mayor Toru Hashimoto may siphon away significant numbers of votes.
When asked which party they would vote for in the proportional representation section of the next election, 31 percent of respondents picked the LDP, up on 21 percent in a similar poll last month. About 14 percent picked the Democrats, the Yomiuri said, compared with 16 percent who opted for Hashimoto’s Japan Restoration group.
The LDP may choose a leader who will exacerbate tensions with China over a territorial dispute that is putting at risk trade ties that have tripled in the past decade to $340 billion. Ishiba, Ishihara and Abe all advocate building on islands in the East China Sea also claimed by China.
Noda’s government last week purchased and nationalized the islands, known as Diaoyu in Chinese and Senkaku in Japanese, and has no construction plans for them. China denounced the move and thousands demonstrated in more than a dozen Chinese cities on Sept. 16, damaging a Panasonic Corp. factory and a Toyota Motor Corp. dealership. Demonstrations spread to 100 Chinese cities today, Kyodo News said.
Almost 75 percent of respondents said they approved of the government’s decision to purchase the islands from their private Japanese owner, the Yomiuri said.
Among supporters of his party, 83 percent of respondents to the Yomiuri poll said they wanted Noda to stay on as leader. Also running in the DPJ leadership race are former agriculture ministers Hirotaka Akamatsu and Michihiko Kano, who had 2 percent and 1 percent support, respectively, today’s poll showed. The newspaper surveyed 1,071 people between Sept. 15-17 and gave no margin of error.
Noda in August made his election pledge in return for opposition support to pass legislation doubling the sales tax, which is intended to raise funds to help cover Japan’s ballooning social security costs and rein in debt. He is not legally obliged to dissolve the lower house of parliament and call an election until August 2013.
Reed added that recognition of Noda’s achievements in passing the sales tax bill and purchasing the disputed islands would eventually boost his support.
“I believe the Democrats will appear better after the leadership election,” he said.