Anxious members of the Civic Association, one of the territory's oldest political and social groups, spoke frankly to the Preparatory Committee's Tam Yiu-chung at the end of a meeting earlier this month - how could they get a seat on the Selection Committee? The group, which is often linked with first-generation politicians including Hilton Cheong Leen and Cecelia Yeung Lai-yin, is in a quandary about how it is viewed. As a political group, social club or fraternity association? Its fears of being left in the cold in the scramble for the 400 seats in the powerful selection body are not unfounded. According to a set of criteria for membership endorsed at a plenum in Beijing yesterday, political parties and organisations will not be considered as groups which can nominate people to sit on the Selection Committee. Like many in the community, they will have to make up their mind on the channel through which they can participate in the 400-member body. Under the rules laid down by the Preparatory Committee, all candidates for the Selection Committee will have to be nominated by groups registered before January 26 - the date the Preparatory Committee was inaugurated. Only the 20-odd local deputies of the Chinese National People's Congress will automatically have a seat as stipulated under the Basic Law. The irony, however, is that the candidates will take part in their personal capacity and do not represent the relevant groups in the selection process. The contradictions reflect the conflicting needs in the work of the Selection Committee. Given the task to choose the first Chief Executive under the Basic Law, the Selection Committee has become even more powerful. It will decide who will sit on the provisional legislature - a by-product of the derailment of the Legco through-train. On one hand, China wants to have a Selection Committee as broadly represented as possible to give legitimacy to its decision. Described by Preparatory Committee chairman Qian Qichen as the first concrete step towards 'democratic participation in politics', a widely-composed Selection Committee will be propagated as an united front success. On the other hand, Beijing is keen to maintain its final say on the membership of the Selection Committee. It would be politically difficult for it to reject any candidate nominated by a specific group as its representative. It could also be politically embarrassing when those they dislike have been named as group nominees. Apparently because of the conflicting needs, the Preparatory Committee has adopted a set of simpler game rules for the nomination drive. There has been no set quota for groups or small sector for seats in each of the four larger categories of members in the Selection Committee. Nor is there a list of officially-recognised groups which can recommend candidates. Nor is there an upper limit of the number of nominations and restrictions for a specific group for it to name a name. There will be no specific invitation to a particular group to make nominations. Under the Basic Law, the Selection Committee should be composed of 400 members with 100 from each of four sectors. These are the industrial, commercial and financial sector; the professions; the labour, grassroots, religious and others sector; and former political figures, Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress and representatives of Hong Kong members of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. The strategy of the Preparatory Committee is to require individuals and groups to take the initiative to decide whether to take part in the Selection Committee and how many nominees they deem appropriate. The drawback of the so-called 'open-style' nomination is that the number of nominations could be many times the number of seats. It is believed that as many as a few thousand names will be put forward at the end of the nomination period on September 14. Some groups tend to believe the more they nominate the more seats they might be given. To Beijing, the beauty of the approach is that it has put the ball back in the people's court and allows the different sectors of the community to decide their participation in the selection body. It will also avoid much bickering within the 150-member committee over how many seats should be allocated to the different groups even before the nomination starts. The first battlefield has been moved the various groups and sectors. It is therefore not surprising that some groups have decided to act merely as a 'post box' to collect members' nominations before passing it to the Preparatory Committee. This will avoid disputes and internal rifts in the groups and sectors. Even if a row over the candidates is avoided, some sectors and groups will face the political bombshell of the provisional legislature. This is despite an earlier decision by the Preparatory Committee to make the relevant requirement over the provisional legislature more moderate. According to the nomination rules, candidates will be required to fill a five-point form. One crucial point is that members will perform the duty of the selection of the Chief Executive and the provisional legislature. Tam Yiu-chung said the two-part duty could only be taken as a whole, but not selectively. He was referring to remarks made by some groups who have reservations over the provisional legislature plan that they would not participate in the formation of the interim legislature. 'Technically, they can still sign up the form but simply do not vote in the selection of the provisional legislature,' said Mr Tam. 'It's up to them to explain it in future,' he pointed out. The present requirement makes no substantial difference to the opponents of the provisional legislature. Selective participation in the Selection Committee is simply unrealistic. Any groupwhich has decided to do so will face severe challenges to its credibility because it will be seen as failing to perform the duty their members have signed up for. To staunch opponents such as the Democrats, it will be politically dangerous to join the Selection Committee. Any move to seek representation in the committee will be seen as a tacit endorsement of the provisional legislature. This goes against their principled stance that the provisional legislature is unlawful. As the setting up of a provisional legislature has become a reality, the pressure for the Democrats to soften its high-sounding principle over the post-handover legislature will grow stronger. Second and third-line members of the Democratic Party whose political baggage is less heavy than their party leaders will be lured to take up a seat in the Selection Committee. The same dilemma will strike groups such as the Bar Association and local religious bodies. Inevitably, disputes and controversy will erupt in the debate over participation in the Selection Committee. The question to be asked is: at what price? Some Preparatory Committee members privately admit that at stake was more than a seat in the Selection Committee and a say in choosing the first Chief Executive and the provisional legislature. Who will get the top post and sit on the interim legislature is more a foregone conclusion. What matters most is that a voice in the Selection Committee symbolises a role in the running of the Special Administrative Region under the banner of 'Hong Kong people ruling Hong Kong'. The price to pay is the reality of being marginalised in politics in post-handover Hong Kong.