Chan Yuen-han, the popular leader of the pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU), has put on a brave face as she braces for her toughest battle by far in the Kowloon East constituency in the 2004 Legislative Council elections. Among her rivals from the pan-democracy camp are talk show host Albert Cheng King-hon, barrister Alan Leong Kah-kit, and Fred Li Wah-ming of the Democratic Party. In a narrow sense, she will also be competing with Chan Kam-lam of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong (DAB), whom she had partnered in the 2000 elections. The pair has split to run on separate lists, hoping to get three of the five seats up for grabs. Intriguingly, the two tickets will run under the joint banner of the DAB and FTU. Ms Chan hopes to snap up a high enough vote share for her running mate, Lam Man-fai, to get an extra seat. Perhaps more importantly, analysts say, Ms Chan wants to distance herself from the pro-Beijing flagship DAB. Founded in 1992, the DAB has built up a hard core of supporters with a moderate pro-Beijing, pro-government stance and pragmatic image. It suffered a severe setback last year because of its support of an unpopular government decision to railroad the national security bill. Beijing's decision to rule out full universal suffrage in April has also taken its toll on the popularity of the DAB. A survey conducted by the Hong Kong Transition Project for the Civic Exchange published last week showed the political controversies were still costing the pro-Beijing flagship dearly. Seventy-eight per cent of respondents were dissatisfied with the performance of the DAB, the highest among nine political groups. Undaunted by the odds, Ms Chan said in Ta Kung Pao: 'We will stay unchanged to face change ... People have a clear idea of what you have done in the past. Rationality will prevail ... We will be able to get three seats.' Ms Chan's upbeat note is no election-speak. Her strong grass-roots image and down-to-earth work style were crucial factors behind the landmark victory of the DAB-FTU ticket in Kowloon East in 2000. The Chan-Chan ticket secured 47 per cent of the votes, edging out the Democrats' Szeto Wah-Fred Li ticket (45 per cent). It was the only geographical constituency where the pro-Beijing force overpowered the Democrats. Recent opinion polls show Ms Chan is still within the top band in popularity among politicians. She is seen as a sure-win in the September 12 polls. However, Ms Chan's personal success is in embarrassing contrast with the slow development of the pro-Beijing force since elective politics entered a new phase in 1991, with the first Legislative Council direct polls. Pro-Beijing candidates, including Ms Chan, suffered a landslide defeat in the maiden polls, with the memory of the bloody crackdown at Tiananmen Square still fresh in voters' minds. The pro-Beijing label had since then become their jinx - until the 2000 poll. Despite the scandal surrounding former DAB leader Gary Cheng Kai-nam, the pro-Beijing force survived the political storm largely unscathed. (Mr Cheng failed to declare to the former legislature his ownership of a public affairs consultancy whose clients included major companies and utilities.) Mr Cheng and his running mate, Choy So-yuk, won two seats in the Hong Kong Island constituency. Mr Cheng later resigned in the face of political pressure. He was convicted of misconduct in public office in 2001. After 12 months in jail, he switched from politics to a career in the media. Leading the DAB team in the Hong Kong Island battle next month is its chairman, Ma Lik, who switched roles from party strategist to helmsman last year, after Tsang Yok-sing resigned following a crushing defeat of DAB candidates in the district council elections. The Ma-Choy campaign was criticised after Mr Ma announced on Sunday he was suffering from colon cancer. Under the proportional representation system, Mr Ma is set to secure a seat given the party's traditional strength and links in the constituency. The chances of Ms Choy, who ranks second on the list, look dim because of the entry of the non-affiliated Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai into the fray. Mrs Fan is making her debut in the geographical polls given her constituency, the Election Committee, is to be axed in the next Legco. Her participation is expected to thin out support for the DAB. The face-offs between pro-Beijing candidates such as Ms Chan Yuen-han and Mr Chan Kam-lam in Kowloon East, and Mr Ma and Mrs Fan in Hong Kong Island are indicative of the tensions and cross-currents within the 'love China, love Hong Kong' camp in the showdown with the pan-democracy force. With the abolition of the Election Committee seats, political figures such as Mrs Fan and the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance's David Chu Yu-lin have had to look for new turf to prolong their political lives, putting them in direct competition with the DAB and FTU for votes. Mr Chu's bid in New Territories East would have diluted support for the DAB's Lau Kong-wah, and also James Tien Pei-chun of the Liberal Party. Citing personal reasons, Mr Chu surprised many by pulling out this month. Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, a City University political scientist who helps co-ordinate the pan-democratic lineup in the elections, is adamant Beijing has played a pivotal role in the united front of pro-Beijing, pro-government forces against the democratic opposition. 'You can't imagine people like David Chu would have withdrawn and Choy So-yuk agreed to rank second on their election list if Beijing had not intervened. Their bottom line is to ensure they get a stable majority in Legco.' Analysts say the pullout of Mr Chu and Tang Siu-tong of the Progressive Alliance is part of the game plan to secure seats for the DAB and Liberal Party candidates. This is to ensure votes for the candidates from the pro-Beijing, pro-government camp will not be diluted by infighting, thus benefiting the pan-democracy camp. On the functional election front, behind-the-scenes lobbying seemingly masterminded by mainland officials had been under way to reduce the chance of pan-democratic candidates in constituencies, particularly those based on individual votes. As long as there are no pan-democratic contestants, Beijing is comfortable letting the hopefuls compete on their own. Analysts say the DAB will adopt a conservative approach to consolidate its hardcore supporters by propagating its image as a 'love China, love Hong Kong' force that strives for a stable and harmonious relationship between the mainland and Hong Kong. They hope to keep the 10 seats they gained in the last Legco. Together with seats likely won by pro-Beijing candidates such as Mrs Fan, the Liberal Party's Mr Tien and Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, the pan-democracy force is unlikely to get a majority. Most estimates put its total number of seats won at between 26 and 28 out of a total of 60 (including functional constituencies). An active figure in the pro-Beijing camp, who did not want to be named, said: 'Beijing woke up to the reality after July 1 last year about the rising strength of the democrats. Their instruction to the chief executive and the Liaison Office was simple - stop the democrats from getting a majority of seats. 'There has been a lot of co-ordinating activity behind the scenes in the past few months ... I have never seen so many election polls commissioned by different people and groups. The results formed the basis for co-ordination among candidates, or put simply, asking someone not to run,' he said. Unlike previous elections, he said Beijing's united front had been lengthened to include the Liberal Party when formulating a co-ordinated plan to counter the democrats. 'The Article 23 saga dealt a fatal blow to the DAB. The Progressive Alliance is too weak to be able to compete in popular elections. They have to turn to the Liberals. 'Broadly speaking, about 20 per cent of people support the DAB. The pan-democratic camp gets about 40 per cent of support. The remaining 40 per cent are those in the middle.' The source said the traditional pro-Beijing camp had failed to abandon its old way of thinking and approach to widen its pool of supporters. 'This is why some non-affiliated candidates such as Rita Fan stand a good chance.' The pro-Beijing force, he said, should no longer rely on its traditional network of groups, such as kaifongs and clan associations, to form its power base, but should be reaching out more widely for support. Ma Ngok, an associate professor of political science at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, said the DAB had failed to break new ground, adding its weakest point was its failure to connect with the middle class and young people. 'At one stage, they succeeded in projecting an image of an open-minded pro-Beijing party. People like Gary Cheng and Chan Yuen-han had a good public image. [But] they began to dissociate from the DAB. Now, the public faces of the DAB, such as Chan Kam-lam and Ip Kwok-him, are far from appealing,' Professor Ma said. 'When people think of the DAB, they associate them with the angry elderly people [at the City Forum] in Victoria Park. Their strategy can still work in old districts such as Kowloon East, where there are still many residents' associations. 'People like Taipan [Albert Cheng] can bypass the network of residents' associations. Their voices go directly to the masses over the airwaves.' Professor Ma said the DAB would be able to secure at least one seat in each of the five geographical constituencies under the proportional representation system. 'There is always a gap among the electorate. More than 20 or perhaps 30 per cent of registered voters have no preference over the DAB or the democrats. It gives room to independents. The Liberal Party had made no effort to fill the gap before. They can take up a share in geographical polls in future.' Former chairman of the Liberal Party, Allen Lee Peng-fei, casts doubts about the partnership between the Liberals and the pro-Beijing camp in the long run. 'The Liberals will change sides on issues of fundamental principles, such as Article 23,' he said. 'They will also be keen to distance themselves from the pro-Beijing camp.' Mr Tien of the Liberal Party resigned from the Executive Council in July last year after it pushed ahead with the legislative timetable of the national security bill. His shock resignation forced the government to withdraw the bill and worsened the political crisis unfolding after the 500,000-strong rally. Mr Tien and the Liberals emerged as the big winner from the Article 23 fiasco. Both Mr Tien and the party vice-chairman, Selina Chow, are expected to win a seat in the New Territories East and West constituencies, respectively. City University's Professor Cheng said there were strong common interests between the business sector and Beijing. 'The business community has a high degree of support for Beijing's policies towards Hong Kong. Beijing will also see the Liberal Party has strong appeal among pro-business voters in geographical polls.' Stopping short of naming favourites in the elections, a vice-director of the central government's Liaison Office, Li Gang, said on Friday the next Legco should be mainly composed of people who 'love China, love Hong Kong'. A leading pro-Beijing figure said this month there was no doubt the Liberal Party belonged to the 'love China, love Hong Kong' camp. Referring to Mr Tien's about-turn in the Article 23 saga, the anonymous pro-Beijing figure said: 'Past experience shows the Communist Party will not forget what the Liberals have done ... But faced with the powerful democrats, Beijing has no choice but to pull together people from the left and the middle to form a strong united front.'