Tokyo: Japan may have a new leader by the end of the month, its sixth in five years, newspapers said today, as embattled Prime Minister Naoto Kan said 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 of 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 today told parliament that, once the two bills are approved, “we have to swiftly start moving to the next stage”.
“For the party, it will mean a leadership election. Once the new party leader is decided, obviously I will have to step down as prime minister. We will enter that phase.”
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 earlier.
“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 aimed 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.
Noda, 54, is a fiscal hawk who has steered the world’s number three economy through turmoil for over a year and stepped into currency markets to bring down the strong yen, which hurts exporters.
Noda signalled his candidacy with an essay titled “my government plan” in the Bungei Shunju conservative monthly today, pledging fiscally prudent policies to whittle down Japan’s public debt mountain.
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 clearly voiced his intentions. Zeenews