07/31/2013 05:51 EDT | Updated 09/30/2013 05:12 EDT

Robert Young drops out of Manitoba Liberal leadership race, pulls website

WINNIPEG - Business consultant and author Robert Young has dropped out of the Manitoba Liberal leadership race, and according to sources, will throw his support behind lawyer Rana Bokhari.

Young announced more than a year ago that he would run for the leadership and set up a website detailing his plans and priorities. The website is down now and Young confirmed Wednesday that he has changed his mind and will stay behind the scenes.

"I have bowed out to focus on working with the party on internal issues," Young, 53, wrote in an email.

"I was re-elected as vice-president, which I am taking as a vote of confidence on the changes we have made and the path ahead."

Young would not comment on word from two Liberal sources who told The Canadian Press that he has agreed to publicly support Bokhari. The sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said a formal announcement is expected in the coming days.

Bokhari is the only official candidate so far in a leadership race that is to be decided Oct. 26 by a one-member, one-vote system. The 35-year-old could represent a generational shift for the party, which has been led since 1998 by Jon Gerrard, who is now 65.

Other people have said they are considering entering the race, including Bob Axworthy — a brother of former federal cabinet minister Lloyd Axworthy — who finished a respectable second in a provincial byelection last year in south Winnipeg.

Whoever wins the leadership will face an uphill battle rebuilding the Liberal brand. The party has just one of the legislature's 57 seats and spent a year paying off debt from a disastrous 2011 provincial election that saw the Liberals garner just 7.5 per cent of the popular vote.

Recent opinion polls suggest Liberal fortunes are rising, however, due in part to the NDP government's recent move to raise the provincial sales tax to eight per cent from seven.

Liberal leadership candidates have until Sept. 26 to enter the race. Along with a relatively low entry fee of $2,500 — in any combination of money or memberships — candidates need signatures from at least 100 members from at least six regions of the province.