IN making its long-heralded debut as a political party yesterday, there will be much sniggering over the Co-operative Resources Centre's (CRC) decision to call itself a liberal party. Not just any liberal party but the Liberal Party. At a time when it is important to be seen to be politically correct, few would oppose any party whose main platform is a belief in liberal democratic values, however woolly or ill-defined. Those familiar with the party's new chairman, Mr Allen Lee Peng-fei, and his CRC colleagues who make up its core membership, will know that they have a reputation for being anything but liberal. None of its CRC members who are legislators are directly elected. Nor does the party believe in going any faster on the pace of democracy than is outlined in the Basic Law. Whether the new Liberal Party turns out to be liberal in name only remains to be seen. Whatever its true leanings, the addition of a second party to the political landscape is long overdue and should be welcomed. It addresses an important issue and that is the need for Hongkong to have an effective and viable opposition party. This was theproblem in September 1991 when the territory held its maiden direct elections to the Legislative Council. The leading liberal party, the United Democrats, did not have an effective opposition to run against. As a result the liberals swept to victory in thedirect polls. This was partly due to the failure of conservative groups such as the now-defunct Group of 89 and former Executive Councillor, Miss Maria Tam Wai-chu's political group, the Liberal Democratic Federation, to put aside their differences and form a coalition party. Since the liberal sweep in the September 1991 elections, the conservatives have realised that they have no choice but to organise themselves into a credible alternative if they are to attract votes in the 1995 elections. Despite the usual problem of trying to persuade businessmen to run, the Liberal Party has the task of convincing the public that it is a broad-based party and not an elite group looking after its own interests. It has taken Mr Allen Lee almost a decade and much wavering to form his political party. Whatever one may think of Mr Lee and his colleagues in the Liberal Party, it is clear that Hongkong politics needs a strong alternative party if the public is to have a real choice in deciding who should represent their interests. It will therefore be important for the Liberal Party to come up with policies that are clear and unequivocal, which demonstrate that it is a political organisation with integrity and backbone. At the moment it lacks these qualities and instead is seen as a political party that has the potential to be pushed around by whichever business interests are the most vocal or one that simply kowtows to the whims of Beijing. The Liberal Party must alsohave its own clear set of principles, which so far, look to be fairly vague and capable of being widely interpreted. The main problem facing the Liberal Party will be the need to establish its credibility with the public and that will mean getting rid of the political baggage many of its founding members have brought with them. This is especially true of Mr Lee and theother CRC members who, rightly or wrongly, have a poor public image because they seem to lack a comprehensive or coherent political philosophy. Instead, they are opportunists who seem prepared to jump on whichever political bandwagon is rolling in the right direction. Ultimately, the real test for the Liberal Party will be whether its members can demonstrate the kind of leadership qualities needed not only to win seats in 1995 but to take Hongkong into and beyond 1997.