Whoever wrote 'we hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office' could have had the upcoming fight for the Legislative Council financial services seat in mind. Nominations for the functional constituency slot began this week and one of the hot favourites presenting his application on the first day was Chim Pui-chung, the 'company doctor' infamous for his maltreatment of minority shareholders and run-ins with the securities regulator. Mr Chim is familiar with the Legislative Council, having served as a lawmaker for a number of years before turning lawbreaker and spending nearly a year in jail in 1999 after a jury found him guilty of plotting to forge share documents. He was stripped of his Legco position but had nevertheless pulled off the bizarre yet impressive feat of winning the financial services seat in 1997 despite a criminal conviction hanging over his head. The odds are already in his favour for a comeback in September even though he is up against a heady gang of competitors: incumbent Henry Wu King-cheong; Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, chairman of the Hong Kong Securities Professionals Association; former legislator Fung Chi-kin; and E2 Capital Group executive chairman Fung Ka-pun. The trick will be to bag votes from various 'blocs' within the sector, Mr Chim perhaps taking the lead because he holds power over the chiu chow gang of small mom and pop brokerage shops, which number about 200. This group is well-known for 'getting together and making a communal approach to everything', according to one broker, particularly when it has anything to do with penny stocks and threats to this colourful cash cow. As for the policies adopted by the candidates, at first blush there appears to be a common theme. Do not expect too many crusades against stock rigging. Freedom and choice are key and over-regulation is a pall smothering the industry. The regulation ticket has several forms but the Securities and Futures Commission unsurprisingly is a focus of attack. One prospective lawmaker has gone so far as to suggest some ethnic cleansing at the body, presumably the same person who came up with the ubiquitous 'market savvy' - the lack of which at the SFC should bar it from taking over the regulation of listings functions. Otherwise, the SFC is just mean, hitting poor brokers in the pocket. Times have become tougher for brokers since April last year, when the minimum commission of 0.25 per cent was abolished. At the time, a doomsday scenario was painted for the smaller operations as competition intensified and poor market turnover took its toll. The abolition was, however, a long time coming: fierce resistance was put up by this small group of vested interests, one of the benefits of having a political voice with clout in the Legislative Council and government. Taking the size of the industry, this clout at times defies any common sense, proportionally. There are about 470-odd brokerages in Hong Kong, with 400 defined as small. This group shared about 19 per cent of the market last year, compared with about 40 per cent in 1997. The 14 largest brokerages, on the other hand, had about 49 per cent of the market last year, compared with 26 per cent in 1997. And industry change that would benefit the consumer - for example, banning brokerages from pooling stock collateral of clients to secure bank loans - is met with tough resistance from the lobby, which makes loud noises, and compromise becomes key. Yet when looked at on a more macro scale, the tilted power of this lobby begins to make sense. Financial services is just one of the functional constituency seats seen as part of the legacy of a political structure which is unrepresentative and has fast become outdated. Democratic aspirations would see functional seats disbanded, perhaps one reason for the number of candidates pitching for the financial services seat this year: its days may be numbered. In the meantime, Mr Chim, at least, can be relied upon for a touch of colour. The financial services market patently has amazing, even uplifting, powers to forgive and forget, as it throws its support behind the ex-con. Either that or a twisted sense of irony.