Japan will have a successor to unpopular Prime Minister Naoto Kan early next week, a cabinet minister said on Tuesday, as a former foreign minister emerged to vie for the leadership.
Kan has faced increasing demands to resign amid criticism of his handling of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami and subsequent nuclear crisis. Polls show Kan's approval rating has fallen below 20 percent.
Critics accuse him of a lack of leadership, while survivors complain of slow relief and recovery efforts.
Economy Minister Kaoru Yosano said Kan told Cabinet members that his days are numbered and that they should be ready to resign en masse next on Tuesday.
Kan earlier promised to step down as soon as Parliament passes two key bills, which it is set to do on Friday. That would set the stage for a leadership election on Monday within Kan's ruling party and a new Prime Minister.
"The Prime Minister told us that cabinet ministers will be resigning en masse on August 30," Yosano told reporters. "He said each minister should do the utmost to prepare for a smooth handover and take care of pending businesses."
Former foreign minister Seiji Maehara, who was expected to officially announce his candidacy later on Tuesday, is favorite to succeed Kan.
Maehara, who resigned just before the March disasters over an illegal political donation, met on Tuesday with a longtime party supporter and influential business leader to reveal his intention to run.
Kazuo Inamori, founder of electronic component maker Kyocera Corp. and a long-standing supporter of the Democratic Party of Japan, confirmed to reporters afterward that Maehara will announce his candidacy.
"I just said go for it, as he wants to run in the race," Inamori said.
Lawmakers who have already come forward to vie for the leadership are Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, trade minister Banri Kaieda and agricultural minister Michihiko Kano.