(ATTN: UPDATES with Lee's comments in paras 3, 11-15; CHANGES photo
SEOUL, March 9 (Yonhap) -- Rep. Lee Nak-yon, chief of the ruling Democratic Party (DP), stepped down from his post in the party Tuesday, in his bid to run for presidency next year.
Lee's departure comes more than six months after he was elected as the DP chairman in late August and exactly one year before the next presidential election slated for March 9, 2022.
"Today, I step down as chairman of the DP ... I give my thanks to the people and fellow party members for cheering me up despite my shortcomings and worrying about me," the five-term lawmaker told reporters in Seoul.
The resignation is in compliance with the DP's internal constitution that requires a party chief or a member of the top party council planning to run for presidency to give up their party positions at least one year before the presidential election.
The regulation is aimed at ensuring checks and balances between the presidency and the party leadership.
In the absence of a party leader, DP floor leader Rep. Kim Tae-nyeon will be doubling as acting party chairman until a new leader is elected in a party congress in May.
Even after his resignation as party chief, Lee will continue to serve as the co-chair of the DP's election strategy committee for the April 7 Seoul and Busan by-elections, as well as the chair of the special party committee in charge of a new airport construction project on Busan's Gadeok Island.
Lee is currently struggling to reclaim his previous lead in opinion polls of presidential hopefuls, which he has, since late last year, lost to DP-affiliated Gyeonggi Province Gov. Lee Jae-myung and Yoon Seok-youl, who resigned as prosecutor general last week.
During the meeting with reporters, Lee cited the DP-led parliamentary passage of a series of progressive legislative bills as his "most rewarding" moments as a party leader, including those on the establishment of a high-profile anti-corruption investigative body and reform of the prosecution service, the police and the national intelligence agency.
He also stressed that beefing up the national welfare system and harnessing innovation to create economic growth are the most relevant challenges facing the country in the current era.
"How to protect the increasingly unstable lives of the people in the era of massive (economic) changes is a (major) challenge of our time," Lee noted.
"We have no alternative except innovation-driven economic growth, in our time under which growth through 'chimney industries' is no longer possible," he also added, referring to the waning importance of the manufacturing sector.
Asked to comment on his public support ratings that have stayed in the range of 10 percent in recent months, Lee said "I will have to take it humbly ... it was due to my shortcomings and political difficulties."
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