(ATTN: RECASTS headline, lead; UPDATES with press conference, photo)
By Lee Minji
SEOUL, Jan. 25 (Yonhap) — Former lawmaker Na Kyung-won said Wednesday she will not run for leader of the ruling People Power Party (PPP), giving in to apparent objections from the office of President Yoon Suk Yeol and increasing the chances of the current front-runner backed by the top office.
Na said she made the decision because she does not want to see division in the party.
“I will courageously lay it down if it can prevent people’s concern about division and confusion in our party and help the party return to harmony and unity,” Na said during a press conference. “If my backing off can shine the future of all of us, I think that will also be a step forward.”
Whether Na will run or not has been a key focus of attention, because her running could significantly affect the chances of Rep. Kim Gi-hyeon, the current front-runner, widely believed to be backed by Yoon’s office.
The race carries added significance, as the next leader would oversee the party through next year’s parliamentary elections and could affect decisions on who should be given party nominations.
Na, a former four-time lawmaker, was considered a strong favorite in the PPP leadership race, placing among the top three favorite candidates alongside Kim and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo in the latest opinion polls.
Yoon’s office has openly expressed opposition to Na’s running, rebuffing a proposal she proposed as vice chair of the presidential population committee and firing her not only as vice chair of the committee but also as climate ambassador.
Tensions further escalated after Yoon’s chief of staff, Kim Dae-ki, openly rebuffed her claims that Yoon’s decision to fire her as vice chair of a presidential committee and a climate ambassador could have been influenced by “distorted” accounts from those against her.
Na said she wishes for the “genuine success” of Yoon’s administration and stressed that the party should pursue inclusiveness.
“A party is the root of free democracy politics. We should make sure to cherish inclusiveness and respect,” she said. “I will wish the Yoon Suk Yeol government a genuine success.”
The PPP is scheduled to hold a national convention on March 8 to pick a new leader.
The next leader will be decided only by a vote of party members, and a run-off election will be held unless anyone wins a majority of votes.
In addition to Kim and Ahn, Reps. Cho Kyung-tae and Yoon Sang-hyun have declared their leadership bids.