Their faces tell it all. Eight months ago, pro-democracy leaders smiled broadly as they celebrated Cyd Ho Sau-lan's unseating of a pro-Beijing incumbent, Ip Kwok-him, from his power base in the Kwun Lung constituency, in Western, in the district council elections on November 23. Emboldened by their success, the pro-democracy camp formed a united front to fight for a majority control, or 31 of 60 seats, in the next Legislative Council. The idea of an alternative-policy blueprint and shadow government had been floated. These are all history. As soon as the first exit-poll results of the Sunday elections were broadcast at 10.30pm, after the 15-hour voting period closed, disillusionment and unease dawned on the faces of the pro-democracy candidates and supporters. At the Kowloon Bay counting centre in the early hours of Monday, former Democratic Party chairman, Martin Lee Chu-ming, said: 'I've never felt so bad winning an election.' He was referring to his imminent re-election in the Hong Kong Island geographical constituency - his fifth since his direct election in 1991 - and the shock defeat of Ms Ho. Hours later, worst came to worst when the ballot results were announced. An emotional Mr Lee said he felt sorry for the mistake in vote-canvassing tactics that cost Ms Ho her seat. To the shock of the leading Democrats, their plea for electors to pool together as many votes as possible for the Democrat ticket worked so well that it cut into the support of their allies in the same constituency. Results show the Democrats' Yeung Sum-Martin Lee ticket got more than 131,000 votes, far more than enough for two seats, while Ms Ho lost by a margin of about 800 votes to their major rival, Choy So-yuk of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong. The embarrassing tactical miscalculation marked a bitter end to the first drive by the pro-democracy forces to maximise their strength in the all-important Legco elections. The pro-democratic camp won 25 seats in the new council. Of these, the Democratic Party netted nine. Holding 11 seats in the last Legco as the largest political party, the Democrats have slipped to third after the DAB (with 12 seats) and the Liberal Party (with 10). Dr Yeung pointed to the democrats' increase of total vote share in geographical polls as a cause for delight over the sustained support for democracy. Behind the party chairman's brave face, however, lies a growing sense of anxiety within the pro-democratic flagship over the post-election political landscape. There are many challenges. The surprise victory of the DAB in geographical polls has taught the Democrats a lesson about the election machinery and organisational strengths of the pro-Beijing force. Within the pro-democracy camp, the rising influence of two other factions from the radical left and the moderate right have posed a challenge to the development of the Democrats. The election of former talk-show host Albert Cheng King-hon and activist 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung to Legco is set to strengthen the force championing grass-roots interests - a radical and action-oriented style of politics. Analysts say the emergence of a new labour force may also further undercut the strength of The Frontier, co-founded by Emily Lau Wai-hing. Separately, the four barristers from the Article 45 Concern Group, including Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Ronny Tong Ka-wah, are poised to fly the banner of a force of rationality, moderation and change with a strong professional, middle-class image. The realignment of pro-democracy groups will weaken the leading role of the Democratic Party in the democratic movement. A senior government official said: 'Like it or not, I have to say the Democrats are easier to talk to and more predictable than other political groups.' She said the emergence of more voices would make it more difficult for the government in lobbying support for policies and bills. Another senior official said the election result would have a significant impact on the unity of the pro-democracy force. He told the South China Morning Post before the Sunday polls: 'You're going to see a serious split if they get 24 seats or less. There will be a lot of noise about the united-front tactic.' Faced with a solid pro-Beijing force in district-based elections, analysts say the pro-democracy camp must seriously consider grooming more candidates to contest functional constituency elections. The surprise victory of pro-democracy candidates in the accountancy and medical constituencies show the potential for an increase of seats in the 2008 Legco. The DAB has been modest about the great success of its election tactics. By instilling a sense of crisis after its sweeping defeat in the November 23 district council polls, the DAB went on the defensive and lowered its expectations in the campaign. DAB chairman Ma Lik said: 'We have bounced back from our setback in the district council elections.' Analysts attributed the traditional pro-Beijing force's success to its strength. The pro-Beijing Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) started making phone calls to its members early on Sunday morning to urge them to support the 'love China, love Hong Kong' candidates in their constituencies. Pundits say the levelling out of votes received by the two DAB tickets in Kowloon East - led by the FTU's Chan Yuen-han and Chan Kam-lam, respectively - demonstrated the power of their mobilisation and co-ordination in elections. With the failure of the other pro-Beijing force, the Hong Kong Progressive Alliance, to get a seat in Legco, the role of the DAB and the FTU in the 'love China, love Hong Kong' political front will be further consolidated after the elections. Beijing will look to the DAB and the FTU as major forces that they and the government can count on in ensuring effective governance in the next three years. However, there's a shadow over the relationship between the two, in the wake of the polls. Chan Yuen-han has given the clearest indication yet that she would sever ties with the DAB after the polls, citing differences over whom they want to serve. Ms Chan said she hoped to fight for workers' interests. She said the DAB was aimed at a cross-sector policy orientation. Having won two of their seats from geographical constituencies, the Liberal Party will continue to play an important role in Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's governing coalition. The party is on the road of no return in geographical constituency elections. It has to make full preparations for greater participation of its young blood in direct polls in 2008, as it braces for fiercer competition in functional polls. Tough decisions have to be made by the party when it confronts issues such as competition policy, where conflicts between big business and the public arise. Mr Tung said on Monday that he would consider a change to the Executive Council lineup, as he had promised earlier this year. An informed source said one option would be to appoint a non-affiliated legislator to sit on the Exco, hoping that he or she would be able to help lobby support from independents. The source said a group of 12 or 13 non-affiliated lawmakers could tilt the balance in the new Legco, with the pro-democracy and government-friendly camps having failed to control a majority of seats. Speculation has been rife that former legislator, Eric Li Ka-cheung, who convened the so-called 'Breakfast Group' of non-affiliated members in the last Legco, might be given a seat in the Exco. This could help broaden the political spectrum in Exco and secure the support of independents in Legco. But the defeat of a number of incumbent 'Breakfast Group' members, including Lo Wing-lok in the medical constituency, plus the emergence of new faces, means the inclinations of non-affiliated members will be less predictable in the early months of the new legislative session. The Tung administration has stuck to its 'do less' approach in the election year by deferring decisions on a number of controversial issues, ranging from the length of university education to racial discrimination. 'The central government has given a big helping hand by killing the issue of universal suffrage,' a senior government official said. 'One of the difficult issues is whether or not to resume the legislative process of Article 23. If the answer is yes, we have to assess our capability to get it through Legco.' The official said the government would also have to make decisions on a range of complex and sensitive policy decisions and projects. These include: the review of mother-tongue education; consultation over anti-racial-discrimination legislation; plans to redevelop the former Kai Tak airport site; and a decision on the West Kowloon Cultural Complex project and the building of Container Terminal 10. On the fiscal front, the government is expected to launch a formal consultation on the introduction of a consumption-based sales tax by the end of this year or early next year. 'The third chief executive election is likely to get heated up next year and in 2006,' the official said. 'There's no doubt governance will be difficult in the next few years. Doing less may, in fact, remain a good option.' Opinion surveys show the popularity of the government has rebounded markedly in the past few months, from a low point in April, when Beijing ruled out dual universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008. Still, the pro-democracy camp, in effect, holds a power of veto over changes to the electoral arrangements for the next chief executive and legislature. Under the election annexes of the Basic Law, any relevant amendments have to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the legislature. A number of economy-related labour issues that figured prominently in the election could be put high on the policy agenda. Most pro-democracy groups have called for the introduction of laws to promote fair competition, cap maximum working hours and outlaw age discrimination among workers in their campaigns. In their victory remarks, some functional constituency winners have vowed to push ahead with reforms on a range of social policies, including healthcare and welfare funding. Speaking hours after the election results were announced, Mr Tung offered to discuss with the newly elected members the priority of policies and ways to improve relationships within Legco. 'I'm looking forward to working with them very, very closely,' he said.