Lee Wing-tat says he believes his deputy can take the reins and reverse the party's flagging public approval ratings Democratic Party chairman Lee Wing-tat, plagued by internal party strife, announced yesterday he would step down as leader when his tenure expires in December. Facing discontent from party members and hampered by persistently low public approval ratings, Mr Lee said he wanted his deputy, Albert Ho Chun-yan, to succeed him. 'He [Mr Ho] is a righteous person. He is very experienced in party affairs and has good approval ratings. I believe he can lead the party's reforms,' said Mr Lee. Democrats are expected to meet in December to elect the new leadership. But Mr Lee, who took over the helm in December 2004, said he would focus more on mapping out strategies for the party in next year's district council and chief executive elections. Mr Lee, 51, succeeded Yeung Sum, who stepped down after the party's poor showing in the Legislative Council elections in September 2004. Last month's survey by the University of Hong Kong's public opinion programme found the party ranked seventh, lagging behind the like-minded Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, which ranked fourth. In March some core members were allegedly offered money by mainland elements in an attempt to infiltrate the opposition party. And a subsequent saga saw internal e-mails - supposedly to be circulated among party members and containing criticisms of Mr Lee and his leadership - leaked to the press by a 'real brother'. 'Compared to the turbulence we faced in the past, it was nothing,' said Mr Lee, referring to when 18 members of the party's radical Young Turks faction quit several years ago. Mr Lee said he had decided not to seek a second term around July, but had held up an announcement until yesterday because of the need to take care of the 'Albert Ho incident'. Mr Ho was beaten by three thugs while dining at a McDonald's restaurant in Central last month. Public recognition of the party, however, surged following the attack. A Chinese University survey last month showed 12.7 per cent of respondents believed the party could best represent their interests, up 2.5 percentage points from July. But Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, said he did not expect much improvement in the party's prospects even if Mr Ho was elected chairman. 'Mr Ho would probably not make big changes to the party line. However, he has an edge over Mr Lee because his relations with the Young Turks in the party are better,' said Dr Ma. Mr Ho is also a core member of the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which Beijing considers subversive. Gary Fan Kwok-wai, a core member of the Young Turks faction and one of Mr Lee's fiercest critics, remained cautious. 'It is good to have some changes in the leadership. But it is not appropriate to make any conclusion before we see Mr Ho's election platform,' said Mr Fan. Mr Ho was not available for comment yesterday. Mr Lee said Mr Ho had not rejected the idea of succeeding him. 'He said he wanted more time to think [about it],' said Mr Lee.