A poll that found 53 per cent of the public do not think any of the SAR's political parties can represent them should set the alarm bells ringing for the parties. What is so worrying about the figure is that it is the culmination of a trend that clearly shows an increasing number of people have lost confidence in them. The Chinese University's Institute of Asia-Pacific Studies has been tracking public support of political parties for more than five years now. When the first poll was conducted in 1996, only 35.6 per cent could not name a political party that could best represent their interests. Under the Basic Law, political parties have a limited role to play in running Hong Kong. Barred from forming the Government, the best they can hope to achieve is to win as many seats as possible in the legislature so they can become a powerful opposition to the Government. Yet although they do not govern, those legislators - and the parties behind them - who are returned by popular elections can claim to be representatives of the people. Indeed, it is this electoral legitimacy which distinguishes them from the Chief Executive, who is returned only by an 800-member Election Committee and presides over an unelected administration. Now the polls have called into question the notion that our political parties can represent the popular will. The pollsters warn that the political parties even face being sidelined if the 'ministers' to be appointed by Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa in July under the new principal officials accountability system succeed in wooing the public with their fresh image and shoring up support for the Government. It remains to be seen whether that will pose a danger to the parties. But an even bigger concern is that the ministers' success, should it become reality, may boost the argument that democracy is not all that important after all. History has shown that Hong Kong people are largely a compliant lot. They had no qualms in throwing their support behind unelected colonial governors as long as the latter were seen to be doing and saying the right thing. For the sake of their own survival and the further development of democracy, it is time the political parties reflected on the reasons behind their plunging popularity and tried better to articulate the public will.