The Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong has wasted little time in trying to look like it is reinventing itself after its big setback in last month's district council elections. A new leader has replaced Tsang Yok-sing, the man who had been at the helm for the past 11 years, and a change in the party's position is expected to follow. It seems that the DAB's support for Tung Chee-hwa, so costly in the polls, can no longer be taken for granted. But just how substantial any shift in direction proves to be is very much open to question. The issue for the DAB is not so much whether it can change, but whether it should. The leadership switch has symbolic value, intended to signal to voters that the party has put its past behind it. But we should not expect any radical movement away from its traditional stance, which is rooted in support for the central government and, by implication, for Mr Tung. New party chief Ma Lik may be the man to help boost the party's popularity. He is intelligent, relatively open-minded, and comfortable with the media. A university graduate who has worked as a teacher and newspaper editor, Mr Ma is a man who could appeal to the middle class, a section of society the DAB - along with other parties - is keen to attract. It was another attribute, however, that probably persuaded the party to opt for Mr Ma - he is not afraid to speak his mind. In particular, for a member of a pro-government party, he has been relatively critical of Mr Tung. This, it might be thought, is just what the DAB needs. But the idea of Mr Ma as an arch-critic of the government, leading the party into opposition and perhaps even embracing liberal policies, is a curious one. He has, in the past, proved himself to be very much the conservative. A modern, sophisticated and outspoken one, to be sure, but a conservative nonetheless. As recently as August he expressed personal reservations about universal suffrage coming in by 2007, although he said he could accept it if this was what the people of Hong Kong wanted. In 1999, the local NPC delegate was critical of the Court of Final Appeal's ruling on the right of abode. In 2001, he attacked the decision to allow Hong Kong-based academic Li Shaomin to return here after being convicted of spying on the mainland. He also hit out at RTHK that year, saying it should be disbanded if it no longer had a role in explaining government policies. More recently, he was an ardent supporter of new national security laws. Whatever his position in the past, the challenge for Mr Ma now should go beyond repackaging the DAB in order to sway a few voters at next year's Legislative Council elections. The party should stick to its principles and not adopt a catch-all approach that would make it barely distinguishable from the others. Mr Ma and his colleagues should be looking to come up with concrete policy proposals to help improve Hong Kong. They should provide detailed and credible ideas on issues such as education reform, revamping the health service, boosting the economy and political reform. This is the sort of repositioning required. The same goes for the other political parties, too. The DAB will be heading into oblivion if it abandons the pro-government stance that is so central to its identity. Mr Ma seemed to appreciate this yesterday, when he appeared reluctant to back the idea of the party pulling out of the Executive Council, asking what would happen to the government if it had no support. The future should lie in helping the Tung administration develop the right policies for Hong Kong. As Mr Ma implied yesterday, the government's ship may be sinking but it is a question of whether the hole can be plugged. The DAB should be the party trying to keep it afloat.