Japan may have a new leader by the end of the month, its sixth in five years, newspapers said Wednesday, as embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan signalled he would resign soon.
Kan, who took office in June last year, is under intense pressure from the conservative opposition and some members of his own party to step down over his handling of the March 11 quake, tsunami and nuclear disasters.
Support for his cabinet has fallen to around 15 percent, the lowest level since his centre-left party took power almost two years ago, when it ended a half-century conservative reign in a landslide election.
Kan, 64, promised weeks ago that he would step aside once three laws are passed -- an extra budget for disaster reconstruction, a bill to help finance it with new bonds, and a law to promote renewable energy.
The supplementary budget bill was enacted last month, and the two major parties have agreed this week to also pass the other two bills by August 26, paving the way for Kan to leave the scene.
Kan signalled on Wednesday that he plans to stick by his pledge when the bills are passed, telling lawmakers in the Diet: "I would like to implement firmly what I have said after they are enacted."
Senior officials of his Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) have been pushing ahead with plans to replace Kan as party leader and therefore as Japan's premier, the Nikkei financial daily said.
"The possibility that the prime minister will resign by the end of the month has grown," said the newspaper, while the Mainichi daily also said that top DPJ officials aim to designate a new prime minister this month.
The Nikkei quoted an unnamed cabinet minister as saying that "one idea is to hold a leadership election on August 28".
Japanese media have mentioned Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda as a leading candidate for the top job.
Sumio Mabuchi, who was transport minister when Japan was embroiled last year in a bitter territorial island row with China, is also seen as a possible candidate.
Public opinion polls have favoured the former high-profile foreign minister Seiji Maehara, but he has not yet voiced clear intentions.