Kuomintang chairman Lien Chan announced yesterday he will not recontest the leadership of Taiwan's main opposition party, making way for a younger generation at the top. His statement came as about 24 KMT heavyweights endorsed a motion during the party's central standing committee meeting asking him to continue leading the party. KMT vice-chairman Chiang Pin-kung said only Mr Lien could improve cross-strait relations. Mr Chiang said he hoped Mr Lien would stay on until the party selected a presidential candidate for the 2008 election. But Mr Lien told international media he had no desire to run. 'The answer is very clear. Not running means not running,' he said. Mr Lien, whose term ends in August, said he had never intended to seek a second term, although many of his supporters had urged him to stay. 'There are so many people, colleagues and friends who want me to continue [to be the chairman]. Certainly it is a sign of encouragement, and it also indicates that they are more familiar with my thinking and major policies,' he said. Mr Lien, 68, has come under mounting pressure to stay on as party chief since his historic mainland visit boosted his popularity by at least 10 percentage points. KMT stalwarts believe Mr Lien's continued leadership could avert a serious rift expected when two party vice-chairmen from the younger generation face off in the July 16 party election. Taipei Mayor Ma Ying-jeou and legislative speaker Wang Jin-pyng have expressed a desire to run for the chairmanship. Mr Ma registered his candidacy yesterday. He had earlier suggested Mr Lien might be made honorary chairman after the election, a proposal that has drawn criticism from party elders who claim he is not being 'respectful' to the party's leader. Mr Ma said yesterday he had made the suggestion because of Mr Lien's repeated insistence that he would step down in August. Mr Wang said he would back off from running in the race if Mr Lien wanted to campaign. Mr Lien emphasised that it was necessary for each candidate to outline their policies clearly so that members would have a clear idea of who was the best choice to lead the party. He expressed concern over differences within the party that may be caused by the candidates' failure to openly explain their plans for leading and developing the party, including how to deal with the mainland and the island's current government.