The Hong Kong Progressive Alliance's (HKPA) recent decision to opt out of the first SAR legislature's geographical elections is a frank admission that they expect to be heavily defeated and calls into question the party's political future. Heavily reliant on small-circle elections, mainly through the Election Committee route, to secure a handful of seats in past elections, the HKPA's decision highlights how the party has become trapped by its past 'success'. The party will field only nine candidates for the functional constituency and Election Committee seats. Party chairman Ambrose Lau Hon-chuen, who will contest the Election Committee seats, said: 'If we know we are going to lose, why don't we put all our efforts into the seats we believe we can win?' However, Mr Lau and his colleagues have missed the bigger political picture: that the Election Committee polls will be phased out in five years. Once the sure-win election format for the party becomes history, what will be left for the party in Hong Kong political establishment? If the party is indeed prepared to take part in the district polls in 2000, why is it wasting the opportunity to gain some experience now? Arguments by HKPA leaders to justify the party's absence in the district polls are anything but persuasive. They maintained that because the party, launched in 1994, was still a relatively new political force, it needed time to develop its district network. They only need to look to Christine Loh Kung-wai's Citizens Party. Ms Loh's party is an even smaller newcomer on the political scene. If Ms Loh and her colleagues believe they should try and are confident they can win, surely the HKPA can make a challenge. The Liberal Party's campaign three years ago should also be considered. With no prior experience in district elections, in 1995 Liberal Party chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei made a laudable move by offering himself as a candidate for the New Territories North East contest. He won the seat. If Mr Lee, with a similar pro-business background as Mr Lau, was bold enough to make the step, the HKPA chairman can surely follow suit. The HKPA should actually find itself better equipped to take part. In 1995, party members Choy So-yuk and Lam Kin-lai stood in the Island East and Island West constituencies respectively. Incumbent party members Wong Siu-yee and Tang Siu-tong, who joined the HKPA after the 1995 elections, also have experience in geographical polls. While none has been elected to the legislature through this route, the party should already have a district network foundation. That the party needs to first develop the network before they fully take part in the geographical polls is not a credible reason for the HKPA deciding not to run. Believing that they can wait until more geographical seats become available to each constituency to boost their chance of winning future district polls is a wrong tactic by the HKPA. It might be based on the assumption that, under the proportional representation system, even if the party can only manage a small percentage of vote, it can still grab a seat or two in the multiple-seat constituencies. If the HKPA wants to remain a competitive political force in Hong Kong, it should reconsider its election strategy. There is still time for the party to change its decision against joining the geographical race. By refusing to take part in the polls, the party is sending a negative message and giving up its chance to reach out to the grassroots to build up community recognition and support. This will only be to the party's detriment.