TOKYO (Reuters) – Two-thirds of Japanese voters support new Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda as his call for unity within the ruling party and conciliatory stance toward the opposition raised hopes for speedy policy implementation, newspaper polls showed on Sunday.
That was a sharp turnaround from his predecessor, Naoto Kan, who saw his support fall below 20 percent after suffering a political stalemate due to rebels within his Democratic Party and a divided parliament, where the opposition controls the upper chamber and can block bills.
But potential trouble for Japan's new leader is already brewing as the Asahi newspaper said Noda had received political donation from a non-Japanese resident. A similar development forced Seiji Maehara to step down as foreign minister in March.
Noda, a fiscal hawk, became Japan's sixth premier in five years last week, pledging to quickly tackle fiscal reforms to rein in huge public debt -- now twice the size of the country's $5 trillion economy -- but with an eye on growth.
Support for the Noda government was 67 percent, according to a poll by the Nikkei business daily, compared with 19 percent for Kan's cabinet in the previous survey conducted in late July.
Polls by three other major newspapers, the Yomiuri, Mainichi and Asahi, showed that support for Noda, who is tasked to forge a new energy policy while ending a radiation crisis caused by a deadly tsunami in March, came to 65 percent, 56 percent and 53 percent, respectively. Another poll by Kyodo news agency showed similar results on Saturday.
In the Nikkei survey, 36 percent of those polled said they support Noda's Democratic Party. That compares with 30 percent in favor of the main opposition Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), boding well for the DPJ's fortunes in the next election.
In the previous survey in July, more voters supported the LDP than the ruling party.
A lower house election is not mandated until late 2013 and Noda on Friday ruled out a snap election for now.
Clouding the high popularity luster, however, the Asahi said Noda's fund management body had received 158,000 yen ($2,058) in political donation from a non-Japanese resident in three years to 2003.
He may also have received about 150,000 yen from another foreign national, the paper added.
It is illegal in Japan for lawmakers to take political contributions from non-Japanese residents, if done intentionally.
The statute of limitations on both cases has already run out, the newspaper said. But they could nonetheless be used by the opposition camp as ammunition to undermine the new government.
The Asahi quoted Noda's office as saying that neither Noda or his office had been aware of the donations in question.
READY FOR INTERVENTION IF NEEDED
Besides the prolonged nuclear crisis and mounting public debt, Noda needs to tame a firmer yen that is hurting Japan's export-reliant economy and enact a third extra budget to fund Japan's reconstruction efforts from the March disaster.
Noda plans to set up a national strategic council, where government ministers, the central bank, businesses and labor unions will discuss key issues such as tax and social security reforms and the country's budget, the Nikkei said.
The council, similar to a powerful policy-making body set up by former popular Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, will enable Noda and Bank of Japan Governor Masaaki Shirakawa to respond flexibly to economic issues while maintaining central bank independence, the newspaper said.
As finance minister in Kan's cabinet, Noda led currency intervention three times to curb the yen's rise, and said on Friday Japan was facing an unprecedented crisis where industry was hollowing out because of the yen's appreciation.
In a sign that he will follow his predecessor's steps on currency, new Finance Minister Jun Azumi said he would not hesitate, if needed, to step in the currency market.
"I'm highly concerned that one-sided yen's appreciation is continuing in the foreign exchange market," Azumi said on public broadcaster NHK on Sunday.
"I will keep my eyes on speculative moves and maintain the stance of taking a decisive step when necessary."
Azumi said he intended to tell a Group of Seven (G7) finance ministers' meeting this week that fiscal conditions in the United States and European countries were among the factors behind a firmer yen and that he aimed to share a sense of urgency with his counterparts.
On the third extra budget, which is needed to help Japan's tsunami-damaged northeast recover, Azumi said he aimed to submit a budget bill to parliament as soon as mid-October.
Azumi, also following in Noda's footsteps, said that drastic cuts in government expenditure alone would not be able to cover rebuilding costs, suggesting that tax rises may be needed. ($1 = 76.770 Japanese Yen)
(Reporting by Kiyoshi Takenaka; Editing by Yoko Nishikawa)