As one of her fellow policy secretaries has observed in private, the most difficult post-handover task for Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan Fang On-sang is to retain her image as the conscience for the civil service, as well as Hong Kong. The public does not foresee chronic social problems, such as those concerning housing, education and welfare for the elderly, being resolved overnight. A few blunders by officials along the way are accepted and have been tolerated. But, if Mrs Chan is seen making too much of a political about-turn and contradicting the principles she has stood for, the damage to her reputation could be beyond repair. She seems to have managed her public image well, at least in the first 10 weeks of the SAR. She has, by and large, steered clear of controversy surrounding the demolition of the legislature constituted by elections in 1995, which she and her colleagues used to hail as 'open, fair and acceptable to the people of Hong Kong'. The job of justifying the establishment of the Provisional Legislative Council and the electoral arrangements for next year to the international community has been left primarily to her boss, Tung Chee-hwa, but there are now signs she has started painting herself into a corner by volunteering comments on this sensitive topic. In her speech to the American Chamber of Commerce last week, Mrs Chan maintained that the new set of electoral rules now being considered by the provisional legislature were not a blow to democracy. 'What I do not accept,' she asserted, 'is the charge that our arrangements will set back the cause of democracy in Hong Kong, or that they have been deliberately designed to include or exclude one or another particular party, group of individuals, in particular the Democrats'. She was alluding to the decision to cut drastically the number of eligible voters for the functional constituencies by close to 1.5 million and introduce a 'multi-seats, single vote' system for the geographical direct elections. Despite Mrs Chan's claim, a consensus has emerged among independent political researchers that the new rules will reduce the Democrats' influence in the future 60-strong legislature by about 10 seats, in comparison with their strong presence in the post-1997 Legco. The electoral framework, to be enacted into law this weekend, may not 'exclude' Democrats altogether. But it will certainly contain the pro-democracy voice in the assembly. The most offensive remark by Mrs Chan was her assertion that: 'Many people forget that the much-criticised functional constituencies introduced such political heavyweights as Martin Lee [Chu-ming], Szeto Wah and Cheung Man-kwong to the legislature.' The statement is only half-true. The three former legislators, now exorcised from the assembly, are popular because they have made it clear their primary goal in taking part in the functional polls was to have this draconian and elite system abolished. Mrs Chan also conveniently overlooked the fact that the elections for functional bodies - the legal and education constituencies - from which the three had been returned were conducted on a 'one person, one vote' basis. Most importantly, the three are popular because they stood up to speak for democracy and civil liberties in Hong Kong and the mainland. Any suggestion they owed their political success to the functional constituencies is like suggesting that South African President Nelson Mandela has apartheid to thank for his popularity. Before the handover, Mrs Chan again stressed that the Chinese authorities needed to justify to the people of Hong Kong any attempt to tamper with the 1995 electoral system. Her speech, entitled Hong Kong: the 64 Dollar 1997 Question and delivered to the National Press Club in Canberra a year ago on Thursday, was typical. She noted: 'Our position on the provisional legislature is unambiguous. 'The current Legco was fairly and openly elected through arrangements, which were and are consistent with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law. These arrangements meet the community's wish for credible and representative institutions which are capable of enduring beyond 1997.' She continued: 'We believe it is up to the Chinese Government to explain why a provisional legislature is necessary, how it is compatible with the Joint Declaration and the Basic Law, and how it would be conducive to a successful transition.' It is thus an eye-opener for the public to see how Mrs Chan can put forward with equal conviction, less than a year later, the case for jettisoning the 1995 system which was, in her own words, both 'credible and representative'. It remains to be seen whether Mrs Chan will venture more public statements on the issue in the run-up to next year's elections. But in preserving her international image, she might well be advised to keep quiet as far as the word 'democracy' is concerned.