I was a firm believer in what Deng Xiaoping said many years ago: when there is a good system, even evil men cannot do evil,' said Martin Lee Chu-ming. 'But when there is no good system, even good people cannot do good, or may be forced to do evil. The only good system for Hong Kong is the democratic system.' He made the comments last year around the 10th anniversary of the handover, while reflecting on the crusade for democracy he embarked upon in the 1980s. 'I haven't won, but I certainly have not lost. My philosophy in life is as long as I'm still fighting, I have not lost. The day I give up, that day I lose. I don't give up.' On Thursday Mr Lee, dubbed the 'father of democracy' in Hong Kong, revealed he would stand down from the Legislative Council when his current term ends in July. He has been a legislator for 23 years, with the exception of the 12 months when the Provisional Legislative Council sat following the handover. While that stint will end soon, Mr Lee says he will continue speaking out on matters of conscience. The founding chairman of the Democratic Party, who turns 70 in June, said: 'It's a big regret my dream of democracy has not come true after fighting for so many years. But there's no reason for me to keep running for public office. People would say I refused to give a chance to young blood.' Pressure on him to make way for younger Democrats ostensibly eased when his long-time running mate in Hong Kong Island, Yeung Sum, decided not to seek re-election a few months ago. Faced with a difficult battle in the Legco election in September, the Democrats felt Mr Lee had the best chance of ensuring the party retained at least one seat in the fiercely contested constituency. Despite a decline in his popularity, Mr Lee still has a sizeable number of long-time supporters. Internal polls by political parties indicate that Mr Lee would have had enough support to win a seat in the September 7 poll. This is despite the fact he trails three powerful candidates - former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang, former security secretary Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Audrey Eu Yuet-mee of the Civic Party. With his departure, there is no doubt the Democratic Party faces one of its most turbulent times since its inception in 1994. Mrs Chan, and Ms Eu and her fellow Civic Party candidates, will have to take the lead in the pan-democrats' fight for four of the six seats up for grabs in Hong Kong Island. Mr Lee cited age as one of the major reasons for his decision to retire. That he began to rethink his role in the past few months shows he had resigned himself to the reality that the political landscape was changing. 'Our Democratic Party is on the decline,' he said in an interview last year. 'The Civic Party has taken over. It's a more popular party among the people. That's not a bad thing because we have the same goals. Both the Civic and Democratic parties are committed to defending the rule of law, our freedoms and democracy. 'It could be said that the emergence of the Civic Party is not good for the Democratic Party, but it's certainly good for the cause of democracy. To me, democracy is more important than the Democratic Party. I welcome their arrival and I hope they will continue to be popular. It all depends on how you position yourself. I put democracy first, the Democratic Party second and Martin Lee third,' he said. On Thursday Mr Lee reminded reporters of the universal truth that no one is indispensable. Yet friend and foe alike would agree that the prominent barrister has played a unique, if controversial, role in the city's political history. As chairman of the influential Bar Association between 1980 and 1983, Mr Lee was among the first members of the Hong Kong elite that Beijing had moved to befriend in the early 1980s when it took the first step towards resuming sovereignty over the city in 1997. He was one of the 'young elite' from business and professional sectors to meet Deng, the late Communist Party patriarch, in 1983. He became one of the few pro-democracy voices on the Beijing-appointed Basic Law Drafting Committee when it began in 1985. He crossed swords with mainland officials such as Lu Ping on issues including the pace and system of democratic elections the post-1997 charter would prescribe. His relations with Beijing took a turn for the worse in the wake of the Tiananmen Square crackdown. Mr Lee and Szeto Wah, who played a key role in the massive protests in Hong Kong against the military suppression of the student-led democracy movement, resigned; they were formally expelled from the drafting body in September 1989. Since then, his only visit to the mainland was a trip to Guangdong in September 2005 as a member of a Legco delegation led by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. Ironically, Mr Lee and the democratic camp owe their crowning moment in politics to the Beijing factor. A year after the Tiananmen crackdown, they won a resounding victory in the first direct election to Legco, amid fears over the onset of communist rule. Mr Lee and the United Democrats he led were seen by voters as a force that could counter the mainland authorities. He was elected founding chairman of the Democratic Party when the United Democrats merged with the Meeting Point in 1994. A year later, the combined democratic force won an overwhelming majority of the directly elected seats in a Legco election. Having been replaced on July 1, 1997, by the provisional legislature elected by a Beijing-appointed panel, Mr Lee and his allies made a ringing comeback in the election in 1998. However, by 2000 there were signs the leading pro-democracy party was in decline. The Beijing-loyalist, pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong went from strength to strength, while the Democratic Party was troubled by infighting, scandals and a decline in popularity. That the present party chairman, Albert Ho Chun-yan, is the third since Mr Lee left the helm in 2002 says something about the party's predicament. However charismatic Mr Lee is as a leader, it is an open secret that uniting the party has proved a tall order. His authority and influence within the party has dwindled. But outside Hong Kong, he is still arguably the best-known, long-time flag carrier for democracy in a Chinese city under the framework of 'one country, two systems'. As a symbol of Hong Kong's democratic movement, he has been a controversial figure in the diplomatic game of chess between China and the international community, in particular the United States. He was invited by the US to speak in favour of granting most-favoured-nation trading status to China after relations between Beijing and western countries were strained by the June 4 Tiananmen suppression. In 2000, he was given an audience at the White House by the then president, Bill Clinton. Despite the fact that his trips overseas were a demonstration of political freedom after the handover, he was often accused of bad-mouthing his homeland and inviting foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs. Last year, he was roundly criticised by Beijing loyalists and newspapers for calling on US President George W. Bush to seek human rights improvements in China ahead of the Beijing Olympic Games. His move to link the Games with human rights split supporters of the pan-democrats. When he joined a party delegation to observe Taiwan's presidential election last week, Mr Lee said he envied the progress of democracy on the island and held out hope its new administration would bring cleaner government. He expressed scepticism about the decision of the National People's Congress Standing Committee three months ago to allow election of the chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017 and for all legislators by 2020. On Thursday, he adapted a famous quote from the founder of modern China, Sun Yat-sen, to illustrate the state of Hong Kong's bumpy ride towards democracy. 'Democracy has not yet been accomplished. Comrades must continue to work hard,' he said as he passed the torch to younger colleagues.