THE Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong's debut in electoral politics has impressed even its rivals, despite its defeat in the Regional Council by-election. Last Sunday's showdown between the pro-China lobby and liberal activists offered an early preview of what is in store for the extended direct elections to the Legislative Council in 1995. Political parties are eager to establish themselves in Sai Kung, which remains one of the few unoccupied bridgeheads for the ballot battle in 1995. The jailing of former legislator, Gilbert Leung Kam-ho a couple of months ago has resulted in a power vacuum in the district. Sai Kung, which covers the newly-developed Junk Bay area, has over 47,000 names on its electoral roll. The tally is set to rise as the region continues to grow. The entire territory is poised to be divided into 20 single-seat Legco constituencies in 1995, comprising about 100,000 registered voters each. The preference of Sai Kung electors will thus have a significant bearing on the outcome of the Legco constituency to be established there. The traditional strongholds of the pro-China forces are confined mainly to areas where left-wing unions are strong. These include Kwun Tong, Island East and particularly Kowloon Central, where the 190,000-strong Federation of Trade Unions is based. None of the seven contenders for the Regco seat was considered an established political figure in the district and they started their campaigns on an equal footing. Party back-up thus became a major factor in the campaign. The Democratic Alliance obviously outperformed its main rival, the United Democrats in terms of its ability to mobilise campaign aides. The Alliance, founded a year ago, managed to have several hundred campaign helpers on polling day. Scores of the party's campaign helpers were seen marching out of a branch office of a Chinese bank in the district in the morning. Exit poll results indicated that Cheung Hon-tin, flag bearer for the Democratic Alliance, was ahead of United Democrat Lam Wing-yin until three hours before the polling stations closed at 10.30pm. But the United Democrats turned out to be effective in lobbying the three major housing estates in Junk Bay. Popular party legislators, including Martin Lee Chu-ming and Yeung Sum, spent the evening in door-to-door canvassing in residential blocks. In contrast, as observed by the pro-Beijing Wei Wen Po, public figures supporting Mr Cheung only appeared outside major polling stations. The rush of voters after dinner helped reverse the earlier trend. Mr Lam finished with 654 votes more than Mr Cheung. The gap between them was less than four per cent of the 16,775 valid ballots. Mr Cheung attributed his defeat to his failure to secure the support of the pro-Taiwan voters in Tiu Keng Leng. Half the 1,800 voters there voted, with most shared between the three liberal candidates. However, this factor will soon be removed as the last pro-Taiwan bastion in Hong Kong gives way to development projects. What Mr Cheung failed to mention was the three major liberal camps had been fighting among themselves. Dr Law Cheung-kwok of the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, attracted 2,657 votes, most of which would otherwise have gone to the United Democrats. THE split within the liberals' ranks is inevitable as the Association and Meeting Point do not want to live under the shadow of the United Democrats. Dr Law lost to the United Democrats' James To Kun-sun in the previous Legco election in Kowloon West. He will probably have to face the incumbent in Yau Tsim district in the next poll, should he fail to find another constituency. His participation in the Sai Kung poll has been seen as an attempt to head off a direct clash with Mr To. Meeting Point may also have had a similar motive when they decided to field Wai Hing-cheung for the by-election. The outcome was far from satisfactory for Dr Law and Sunday's defeat does not augur well for his next attempt, even in another constituency. Meeting Point now has four legislators under its banner in the assembly. Its chairman, Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, has made public its ambition to double the number in 1995. Sai Kung could be a strategic stepping stone in realising its electoral goal. The United Democrats, also have reasons to bolster its grassroots support in the district. Sai Kung was part of the double-seat New Territories East constituency in the 1991 Legco elections. It is the only district where the liberal flagship was unable to return an elected legislator. A victory at the Regional Council level in the district could pave the way for a political comeback for Mr Johnston Wong Hong-chung in two years. Mr Wong, a regional councillor, acted as the campaign manager for his party colleague in the Sai Kung fray. The Wen Wei Po made an interesting conjecture observation that Meeting Point had scaled down their campaign activities soon after it realised that its nominee did not stand a realistic chance of winning. The theory was that it would then be able to have the votes transferred to Mr Lam of the United Democrats to ensure that the seat would not be taken by a pro-China figure. The paper could have over-estimated the degree of co-operation between the two parties. No budding politician would like to carry a record of securing 552, or only three per cent, of the total votes cast. Collaboration will hardly be the catchword for the ''single-seat, single vote'' direct elections to Legco in 1995.