Hong Kong will soon witness its biggest scramble for political power as up to 10,000 citizens fight for a place on the soon-to-be established selection committee. Next month the Preparatory Committee for the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) will decide how 400 residents, as prescribed by the Basic Law, are to be chosen for the selection committee. Members of the selection committee will then pick the first chief executive for the SAR, as well as 60 councillors for the Provisional Legislative Assembly. If the current proposal is adopted, between 8,000 and 10,000 nominees are expected to step forward. A boycott by the Democratic Party, whose members vehemently oppose the selection committee, is unlikely to have much bearing on the nomination process as far as head counts are concerned. In order to project an open and democratic image, a subgroup under the Preparatory Committee is said to favour generating as many nominations as possible. This is taken as a golden opportunity for the Beijing-appointed Preparatory Committee to boost public confidence in the scheme. The working panel's current plan is to allow all organisations registered with the Hong Kong Government before January 24 this year to submit as many nominations as they like. That is the date on which the Preparatory Committee was set up. A wide range of organisations, including labour unions, charities, academic societies, social clubs, sports teams, professional bodies, chambers of commerce and even mutual aid committees, will be admitted. These registered groups are supposed to come up with respective lists of nominees, but individual members are also entitled to have their names inserted. The requirements for the nominees will be kept to a minimum. There was a minority view in the subgroup, co-chaired by unionist Tam Yiu-chung, that nominees should declare their criminal records. The idea apparently failed to attract much support. Instead, contestants have to meet the basic criteria of being a permanent Hong Kong resident over 18 years of age. They also need to support the Basic Law and the establishment of an interim legislature. The nomination lists will then be processed by the Preparatory Committee. There is no plan for the name lists to be published for public consumption. Instead, each of the 150 Preparatory Committee members will be given a say in the preliminary elimination of some of the nominees. One proposal is to allow each member to recommend 100 names for deletion from the master list. After that, the 13 directors and co-convenors of the Preparatory Committee are supposed to devise a shortlist of preferred nominees for consideration by the entire committee. Whether the panel will take the advice of individual members seriously will be difficult to ascertain, as members will not be given a report on what their colleagues recommended. According to a decision by the National People's Congress (NPC), the 400 selection committee seats are to be equally divided between four general groups: industrial, commercial and financial sectors; the professions; labour, grass-roots, religious and other sectors; and former political figures and Hong Kong deputies to the NPC and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). The directors' panel is likely to allow an extra 30 names for each category. This means each Preparatory Committee member will eventually have to pick 400 names from a pool of about 520 candidates. Those who get the most votes in each of the categories will be selected. Although the arrangement is a far cry from a fully fledged 'one person, one vote' process, it is the most open procedure so far for China to choose its advisers from Hong Kong. None of the NPC and CPPCC local delegates, District Affairs Advisers, Hong Kong Affairs Advisers, Preparatory Committee members or their predecessors in the Preliminary Working Committee, have gone through any open nomination proceedings. In spite of the proposed steps, even some of the Preparatory Committee members are suspicious that the directors' panel has already made a nominee list of its own. After all, as one member put it, China would like to impose some control on the selection of the first chief executive for the Hong Kong SAR. Behind the scenes lobbying has started in earnest for the two major candidates for the job - tycoon Tung Chee-wha and Chief Secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang. Even though Lo Tak-shing is the first to make public his ambition to head the SAR, he is still not widely regarded as a viable candidate at this stage. It is understood that there is a split of views among the ranks of Chinese cadres. Some are said to have found the idea of having a rich man ruling Hong Kong unpalatable. The choice of Mr Tung, it is feared, might introduce an undesirable culture of money politics into the SAR. Others, however, apparently still have some reservations about Mrs Chan's role in the British plot against China. Although Mr Tung has yet to declare his candidacy, he has a lead over other competitors. A vice-chairman of the CPPCC, Henry Fok Ying-tung, has put it on record that he considered Mr Tung the right man for the post. Other influential Preparatory Committee members, such as Li Ka-shing, Sir Sze-yuen Chung, Allen Lee Peng-fei and his Liberal Party colleagues, are also said be rallying behind Mr Tung. In the opposite camp, Peter Woo Kwong-ching is named as one of those who have been lobbying on behalf of Mrs Chan. The campaign to have an independent civil servant or professional at the helm of the SAR is slowly gathering momentum. The final make-up of the selection committee will give a clearer indication of which side of the balance Beijing is poised to tip.