AS the holiday period draws to a close and the territory slowly gets back into full swing, legislative councillors will be forced in a few weeks to get down to serious position-taking and negotiating on the nitty gritty of the Governor's controversialconstitutional package. It will be a long and arduous job, yet the public will be looking to the Legislative Council for a way out of the current impasse with China. This will require more leadership and courage than some legislators have shown themselves to possess. Yet it is a responsibility they cannot shirk if they are to justify their seats on a body which claims to represent the people of Hongkong. However, the difficulty and implications of the decisions they face are such that those who have so far made a virtue of indecision may start to find their prevarication habit-forming. Recent public opinion polls show that while the Governor enjoys a bedrock of support, an increasing number do not know where they stand. One explanation could be that the longer the row continues the less certain the public are about which side to support. While liberal legislators have taken a firm stand in backing the Governor, others hoping to serve beyond 1997 will probably think twice before pinning their colours to the democratic mast. Functional constituency members who have taken readings in their own constituencies can at least hide behind the views of their memberswhile appointed legislators will have to make up their minds unaided. Nevertheless, the debate is a crucial test of the legislature's maturity and of Hongkong's commitment to living up to the high degree of autonomy promised in the Joint Declaration. Therefore, at the end of the day, some kind of decision must eventually be reached. The alternative would be to abdicate all responsibility and ask China and Britain to sort the problem out between them. However such a prospect is not only undesirable but unthinkable as it would take the decision-making out of the hands of the body where it belongs, the Legislative Council. An idea of the difficulties that legislators face can be gleaned from the compendium of proposals published by the Government late last week. Submissions run the entire gamut of opinion from full and immediate direct elections to a complete reversion tothe position described in the Basic Law. With such a diverse range of views polarising the community, it will make the task of legislators all that more difficult as they attempt to reach a consensus on what pace of democracy is best for Hongkong. With the debate set to drag on until at least the summer, it looks increasingly likely that a compromise will be found that waters down the Governor's most controversial proposals on the election committee and functional constituencies to the point wherethey closely resemble the Chinese position, despite Beijing's present refusal to acknowledge any compromise on Mr Chris Patten's package. However, such a solution would not be acceptable to the United Democrats, or independent liberal legislators such as Miss Emily Lau Wai-hing, Miss Christine Loh Kung-wai or Miss Anna Wu Hung-yuk who would be forced to vote against any proposals that do not meet Mr Patten's criteria of being fair, open and acceptable to the people of Hongkong. Mr Patten has said that he intends to put before the Legislative Council in a few weeks a set of proposals that represent the best point of balance within the community. It will be up to legislators to debate and ultimately decide upon his judgement. Although the constitutional reform debate will take up much of the legislature's attention in the next few months, it will not be the only issue to preoccupy legislators. Other equally pressing matters will need to be scrutinised just as carefully, if not more so, such as the March Budget that the Financial Secretary is busy finalising. With another embarrassing fiscal surplus on his hands, largely as a result of under-spending on the airport and infrastructure, Mr Hamish Macleod can expect a battle royal over his Budget. If Mr Patten is true to his political instincts, he may use the Budget as an opportunity to win over legislators who might be in an otherwise combative move over his political reforms. Hopefully though, once the constitutional package is decided, China will eventually return to the negotiating table for serious discussions on other outstanding issues such as the airport and allow the Joint Liaison Group to get on with other transitional issues. Only then can the business of government return to normal.