Allen Lee Peng-fei, retiring from the helm of the business-oriented Liberal Party, remains bullish about its future. He dismisses speculation that his retirement from electoral politics will deal a severe blow to the party's resolve to take part in direct elections. He rejects claims that the party will fall apart when its founding chairman stands down. He is adamant the Liberal Party has played and will continue to play a key role in the SAR political scene. The party, founded by a group of government appointees to the former Legco in the early 1990s, has been labelled a 'pro-government party', 'elitist' and a 'business party'. Its strength in most business chamber and professional groups has been so entrenched most of its members in Legco were elected uncontested in May. Ironically, it is this easy success in smaller constituencies that has hampered the party's development. Despite the high-sounding rhetoric of its core leaders about their belief in greater democracy, it was not until 1995 that the party fielded one of its incumbents in a geographical constituency. Allen Lee won. Three years later, he remained the only incumbent to run for direct elections. This time he lost. Now, four months after the new Legco started formal operations, Mr Lee, 58, has decided not to try to rejoin the lawmaking body after two decades of service. He will not, he says, stand for direct elections in the year 2000, adding 'I'm retiring from that type of politics'. An appointed member since the era of former governor Lord MacLehose, Mr Lee sat on the Executive Council during the sensitive 1997 negotiations and was one of the most vocal critics of last Governor Chris Patten over his political blueprint. Speaking after winning a geographical constituency seat in 1995, the prominent businessman declared his victory showed the Liberal Party could also win under the 'one-man, one-vote' rule. But after losing by a small margin in the New Territories East constituency in the last election, doubts began to increase over the future of the veteran politician and the party itself. Mr Lee said: 'After 20 years of work in Legco, it's no longer attractive and challenging to me. It's very time-consuming. Nor it is fair to the party. They need an incumbent to lead the party.' He admitted the Liberals had failed to tell the community clearly what they stood for. 'We failed in our propaganda work. We've been labelled as a business party only concerned about businessmen. No political party can survive without popular support. But perception is reality.' Mr Lee reckoned they had wavered over the party line in the past because of an obsession with the fear that it would be criticised as a 'business party'. 'We should have nothing to fear. Yes. We are a party supported by businesses . . . Our pro-business stance has to be made very clear. The present economic situation is not good. There will be more industrial disputes. But in one or two years' time, it will all be over.' He was confident that such a stance would win public backing. 'I'm sure we will have votes if we stand up for business development. Yet we have to show consistency in our policies. Our principled stance should not waver.' The lesson the whole community had learned from the financial crash, he said, was to make the economy top priority. He said 1.15 million people who owned their flats had suffered a loss in the value of their assets. 'We have to convince them why they have to support us because we know how to enliven the economy.' Mr Lee maintained his standing down should not be interpreted as a U-turn in the party's stance on democracy. 'Full universal suffrage will not necessarily occur in 2008 although I think there's a big chance. But the time will come when we will see a fully elected Legco. The time will come when Hong Kong people can elect their own government. And the time will come when there's a ruling party.' He said his recommended successor James Tien Pei-chun agrees with his views. 'Two years ago, I had no idea when you asked me who would be my successor. Jimmy [James Tien] had been seen as someone from a well-off family and did not understand what the public cared about. He has changed and can afford the time to participate fully in politics. 'There are things he needs to improve on, such as spending more time on Legco work. I'm quite confident [with that] and feel at ease,' he added. Nevertheless, he maintained none of the parties was ready to take power, blaming the present political system that provides no power or responsibility to the elected representatives. 'A change in the system will force the parties to make early preparations.' Legco members, he said, should work harder to improve their tarnished image. 'At present, Legco suffers from a bad image. The adjournment of the Policy Address debate because of the lack of a quorum was very unfortunate. It would never happen if we had a ruling party in Legco because the degree of accountability to the public would be much greater.' Mr Lee has told Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa of his decision not to bid for a Legco seat. 'He asked me whether I would consider taking other public office posts. 'I said I would if I found them suitable.' He described press reports that said he would succeed Dr Chung Sze-yuen as Senior Executive Council member as imaginative. 'Mr Tung is in a difficult situation,' he said. 'We have to be a bit more patient with him. He's a very responsible person. I'm confident that he will come through as a caring leader.'