Rep. Moon Jae-in, chairman of the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MPK), said Tuesday that he will resign as soon as possible and hand over power to the party's election planning committee, established recently in preparation for the general election scheduled for April 13.
"I will resign as soon as the election planning committee is prepared to lead the party," Moon said during a press conference. "The committee will exercise a full mandate and be the center of the party in preparation for the elections."
He didn't specify a date on which he will resign but said he will announce one after consulting with members of the party's Supreme Council.
Moon also said he will not run for an Assembly seat during the upcoming election, adding that he will focus on helping the party win the election.
The announcement came 345 days after he was elected to be leader at the party's national convention in February 2015.
Moon has been under increasing pressure to step down following a crushing defeat in the April 29 by-elections. While he pushed ahead with controversial plans for party reform, factional strife between Moon-led lawmakers who are loyal to the political legacy of the late former President Roh Moo-hyun and others opposed to Moon's leadership was aggravated, causing a mass exodus of party members who have joined Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo.
The embattled leader recently recruited Kim Jong-in, former campaign strategist for then presidential candidate Park Geun-hye, to head the party's election planning committee as a move to gain momentum ahead of the general election.
"What I hoped to preserve was not the leadership but principles. I introduced a fair nomination process where no bigwigs can wield influence and began a move to restructure the party by recruiting the elite," Moon said. "What I failed to bring was unity to the opposition camp, which I think will come with my resignation."
Moon said he is stepping aside to integrate the opposition bloc, expressing hopes that his resignation will facilitate a discussion on how to achieve this.
"After my resignation, there will be no reason for us to refrain from talking, considering those who left the party said that their departure was caused by my holding onto the leadership," he said.
"I suggest that we should start formal talks on forming an alliance with Rep. Chun Jung-bae's camp and the minor Justice Party. We should also be open to the idea of joining hands with the People's Party led by Rep. Ahn Cheol-soo."
In response, the opposition camps showed mixed views.
A Justice Party spokesman responded positively, saying, "An alliance under which both parties put one candidate in a constituency is a plausible scenario." But Rep. Chun cautiously answered, "It remains to be seen if the Minjoo Party will discard vested rights beforehand."
Rep. Ahn voiced negative views regarding the move, denouncing Moon for appointing Kim who used to work for the ruling camp to lead the party.
"Moon is pursuing a victory without principle, which the late President Roh would never have agreed to," Ahn wrote in a statement.
The announcement is expected to put the brakes on a continuing exodus of incumbent lawmakers, party officials said.
More lawmakers whose constituencies are in Jeolla Provinces — including Rep. Park Jie-won — earlier heralded their departure within this week but postponed the plan following the recruitment of Kim.
Nine lawmakers from North Jeolla Province issued a statement that they would not quit the party Monday and lawmakers from Chungcheong Province are discussing whether to make a similar move, according to the officials.