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Japanese PM has broad support: poll

Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso (AFP)

By Reuters

Prime Minister Taro Aso has backing from a majority of ruling party chapters to lead the party into an election this year, a survey showed on Thursday, suggesting pressure for the unpopular leader to quit soon may not be big.

Sinking voter support for Aso has triggered talk among lawmakers in his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) of replacing him before an election the party looks increasingly likely to lose.

But 30 of 47 party chapter executives surveyed by the Asahi newspaper said Aso should lead the LDP in the next election, although some said they backed him only reluctantly.

Party chapters were instrumental in toppling then-prime minister Yoshiro Mori in 2001 after a plunge in voter ratings, and threw their support behind his successor, Junichiro Koizumi.

Local party officials said there was little hope for a turnaround in the party's fortunes even if Aso stepped down.

Aso became Japan's third prime minister in less than two years after an LDP vote last September with overwhelming support from party chapters.

"We chose him in the party leadership election," an official from the Tokyo chapter was quoted as saying. "Even if we make a fuss now, it'll just weaken our organisation."

LDP lawmakers' frustration with Aso swelled further this week when his finance minister resigned after being forced to deny he was drunk at a G7 news conference in Rome.

Aso apologised for the resignation in parliament, where he faced a grilling from the opposition and some harsh words from even a coalition lawmaker.

"The government and the LDP itself have already started to fall apart," the main opposition Democratic Party's Azuma Koshiishi told reporters after Aso's apology.

"The Aso administration and the LDP administration have already lost the trust of the people and of the world."