Japan ruling Democrats keep lead before July poll

TOKYO Mon Jun 14, 2010 12:00am EDT

Japan's new Prime Minister Naoto Kan enters the lower house hall to deliver his keynote speech in Tokyo June 11, 2010. REUTERS/Issei Kato

Japan's new Prime Minister Naoto Kan enters the lower house hall to deliver his keynote speech in Tokyo June 11, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Issei Kato

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TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan's ruling Democratic Party kept its lead in voter support ahead of an election expected on July 11, opinion polls showed on Monday, after new premier Naoto Kan took the helm last week and vowed to tackle fiscal woes.

The Democrats have a big majority in the lower house but need to win a majority in an upper house poll to avoid policy paralysis as Japan struggles to keep a fragile economic recovery on track and rein in its bulging public debt.

An Asahi newspaper poll showed that 43 percent of voters plan to cast ballots for the Democratic Party, up 4 points from a survey last week. That compared with 14 percent for the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), up 1 point.

A Yomiuri newspaper survey showed that 31 percent of respondents plan to vote for the Democrats, down 5 points from a survey last week, while 16 percent said they will vote for the LDP, up 3 points.

"The people understand well enough the historical meaning of last year's change of government," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku told a news conference.

"They expect the Democratic government to produce something that is different from the LDP government."

Kan, who took over as prime minister after his unpopular predecessor quit abruptly this month, has made tackling a public debt that is already twice the size of Japan's economy a top priority amid market concerns about sovereign debt risk.

Kan, the country's fifth premier in three years, has called for nonpartisan debate on raising Japan's 5 percent sales tax, and the media surveys showed more voters were open to an increase in the tax.

In the Yomiuri poll, 66 percent said a sales tax hike is necessary against 29 percent who said it was not. In the Asahi survey, 49 percent said they support raising the sales tax, against 44 percent who said they were opposed.

The Democrats have pledged not to raise the sales tax before the next general election for the lower house, which must be held by late 2013. But some party reformers want the campaign platform for the upper house election to include a reference to increasing the tax after the next general election.

The government will unveil a strategy to fix its tattered finances by June 22 in an effort to reassure investors that it will cut back the country's huge debts.

Ratings agencies have warned they could cut Japan's sovereign debt rating unless Tokyo crafts a credible plan to rein in debt.

(Reporting by Yoko Kubota; Editing by Chris Gallagher and Joseph Radford)

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