It is tempting to have another go on Anson Chan Fang On-sang even though the gossip about her in political circles was the subject of this column just a month ago. The former chief secretary was back in media focus again last week when a leading columnist in the Chinese-language Hong Kong Economic Journal wrote that Mrs Chan was planning to form a political party. Confronted by journalists about the report, Mrs Chan neither confirmed nor denied it. She simply indicated she had 'no intention, at present, to change either the situation or the rhythm of my life'. Some of her former colleagues said it was unlikely Mrs Chan would fly the flag of a political party. One of them, Kwong Ki-chi, pointed out she would lose her superior status in society if she played party politics. That said, more political pundits believe the likelihood of her running in the next chief executive race has grown following changes in the political scene since the July 1 rally. Some of her close friends, it is reliably learned, have lobbied her to consider running for the top post. Although she has given no indication of strong interest, she has not categorically ruled it out. Her response last week to the report about forming a political party gives further credence to the observation that she is keen to keep all her options open - including the post of chief executive. This was in subtle contrast to her stance when she made an early departure from government two years ago. Then, she said repeatedly she would not contest the top post. Without the blessing of Beijing, Mrs Chan knew well that any attempt to challenge the re-election of Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa would be futile. The Beijing factor may still be crucial in the third chief executive election. That four mainland legal experts have spoken up against denying Beijing a say in the upcoming constitutional review underpins the concern in some quarters about drastic electoral change. The growing calls by pan-democracy forces to 'return power to the people' through universal suffrage have given rise to fears that this would undermine the principle of 'one country'. More importantly, there is a real possibility electing the chief executive by popular vote could produce a result not acceptable to Beijing. The Beijing leadership and the pro-Beijing circle in Hong Kong see a need to address the rising demands for election by universal suffrage for the top post in 2007. For instance, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong has floated the idea of electing the next chief executive by one man, one vote, subject to strict nomination procedures. If voters were asked to choose between Mrs Chan and the much-liked barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, some political observers believe the retired top official, who might be more acceptable to Beijing, would stand a good chance of winning. A veteran politician said: 'I bet Mrs Chan wouldn't make any trouble after she becomes chief executive.' Unsurprisingly, some people within the pro-Beijing camp remain highly critical and distrustful of Mrs Chan for her past deeds and words. Their opposition may be weakened, however, as more in the community hope to see a more competent and strong leadership with broad public support at a time of political and economic uncertainties. For its part, Beijing will be under enormous pressure to allow a genuine election for the chief executive - be it through universal suffrage or, at least, through a more democratic election-committee system. It will be increasingly difficult and risky for Beijing to try to block the candidacy of favourites such as Mrs Chan in the 2007 election. Already faced with a tough battle over political reform, it will find the retired but influential official a difficult player to deal with in its game plan for Hong Kong.