(ATTN: RECASTS lead; ADDS poll result, remarks by other candidates; REPLACES 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 raising questions about whom her supporters will back instead.
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 will 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 three favorite candidates, alongside Kim and Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo, in the latest opinion polls.
In a poll of 2,002 adults conducted by Embrain Public on Sunday and Monday, 25.4 percent of the 784 respondents who identified as PPP supporters picked Kim as their favorite. Ahn and Na trailed at 22.3 percent and 16.9 percent, respectively.
The result, however, changed when they were asked who they would support if a runoff election were held, with 49.8 percent saying they would vote for Ahn and 39.4 percent for Kim.
Na ruled out the possibility of supporting either candidate, saying there is "no room" for her to play a role in the runup to the national convention.
Kim welcomed Na's decision, touting it as the "foundation" for the ruling party's victory in the general elections. Ahn, however, voiced regret, claiming her running would have given more options to party members and drawn public attention to the party election.
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.