Former minister top-rated choice to replace PM Kan

Voters believe former Foreign Minister Seiji Maehara is the lawmaker best suited to succeed Naoto Kan as prime minister, according to a Yomiuri Shimbun survey.

Respondents were asked to nominate, from a list, the lawmaker they believed would be the best candidate to take over from Kan as prime minister.

Maehara came top with 14 percent, followed by Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano and Democratic Party of Japan Secretary General Katsuya Okada, both with 9 percent.

The nationwide telephone-interview poll was conducted on Friday and Saturday on 1,771 households with eligible voters, using a random digit dialing method. Valid responses were given by 1,057 people, or about 60 percent of pollees.

Observers said Maehara, Edano and Okada are all seen as having their own strengths and weaknesses. Speculation about Kan's leadership was sent into full swing after Kan last week suggested he might step down from his post, although he did not specify a time frame.

Maehara, 49, has previously been leader of the DPJ and land, infrastructure, transport and tourism minister. Observers said the former foreign minister has a good knowledge of security policy. They added that a number of Liberal Democratic Party members would be willing to cooperate with the DPJ under Maehara's leadership.

However, it is thought Maehara would be hesitant to contest a party presidential election. He resigned as foreign minister in March in the wake of reports he received donations from a Korean resident in Japan, a potential violation of funding rules.

Edano, 47, obtained a lot of publicity after the Great East Japan Earthquake, when he held a press conference almost every day. However, observers said the perception that he is too close to Kan might decrease his chances of becoming prime minister.

Okada, 57, was blamed by many DPJ members for the party's setback in unified local elections held in April.

The next bracket of possible candidates includes Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, 54; Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku, 65; and State Minister in Charge of National Policy Koichiro Gemba, 47.

DPJ sources said Noda might consider entering the race if an election is held. He visited Kan at the Prime Minister's Office on Saturday.

Sengoku is believed to have met with LDP Vice President Tadamori Oshima in Tokyo on Saturday to talk about a future political framework. Sengoku is said to have contacted Oshima previously about forming a grand coalition of the DPJ and LDP that would exclude Kan.

The names of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Minister Michihiko Kano and Economy, Trade and Industry Minister Banri Kaieda have also been bandied about.

Former Environment Minister Sakihito Ozawa has told people close to him he intends to run for the top post if an election is held, sources said.

Similar inclinations have been expressed by Kazuhiro Haraguchi, former internal affairs and communications minister, and Shinji Tarutoko, chairman of the lower house Fundamental National Policies Committee.

However, Haraguchi angered the intraparty group led by former DPJ leader Ichiro Ozawa by voting against a no-confidence motion filed against the Kan Cabinet on Thursday.

Ozawa's DPJ membership has been suspended, making him ineligible to be party president.

--The Yomiuri Shimbun/ANN