Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's long experience and the high esteem in which he is held by the civil service may prove a political liability as much as an asset. Hong Kong's future leader, often criticised as Tung Chee-hwa's 'yes man', will only be able to pick his team under Beijing's tight control, observers say. After going from being a colonial executive officer to chief secretary, the former civil-service boss is widely seen as enjoying unquestioned support from the city's 170,000 public servants. But many politicians are already wary of a renaissance in civil-service rule and have voiced opposition to any move to abolish the ministerial system. After 21/2 years of the ministerial-system experiment, top civil servants are pinning their hopes on Mr Tsang bringing familiar faces into the ruling team when he is formally elected chief executive. Yet political parties are equally keen to guard against any erosion of their influence on the choice of policy secretaries. With his term as chief executive set to last only two years, the conventional wisdom is that any drastic personnel changes would be tantamount to political suicide. Recent announcements by top mainland officials have reinforced the belief that Mr Tsang has no choice but to inherit the current team. Nonetheless, speculation is rife that Mr Tsang, after a six-month period as acting chief executive, may bring in his close aides from the civil service. Rafael Hui Si-yan, former financial services secretary, is widely tipped as a possible choice for the post of chief secretary. But it is understood that senior officials have expressed doubt about his comeback. Analysts are not convinced that Mr Tsang will have a free hand to pick his cabinet and principal officials. 'I think the autonomy given to Donald will be much less than that to Mr Tung. Beijing will ensure that things will develop as planned,' said Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, professor of public and social administration at City University. He doubted whether the future team would be dominated by civil servants. 'Those who are willing to take up political appointments would have done so two years ago. There might be some who want to work with Donald rather than Mr Tung. But the numbers are small,' he said. And Mr Tsang's relationship with the civil service may not be as cosy as it seems. Li Pang-kwong, of Lingnan University, said: 'People assume that civil servants will play a leading role in a government led by Donald. But is it going to be plain sailing? Many civil servants think he has changed since he joined the accountability system.' One senior official described the handover of the leadership to Mr Tsang as, at least, a morale boost, while Federation of Civil Service Unions president Leung Chau-ting said civil servants in general viewed it as a positive step. 'We cannot assume that civil servants will go back to the good old days. But his civil service background will make him understand more our problems.' The vice-chairman of the Government Senior Officers Association, Poon Wai-ming, said it was widely assumed that relations with the civil service would improve under Mr Tsang's leadership. 'Mr Tsang is more familiar with the operations of the civil service. As far as co-operation is concerned, he has an edge above any other person.' But he said staff were concerned about whether Mr Tsang would honour his predecessor's pledges, including vows of no pay cuts or forced redundancies during the current term. 'Our position is that Mr Tung's term lasts until mid-2007. Now he steps down. Whoever takes over this second term has the duty to fulfil the promises.' But he was quick to add that this did not mean the association only backed Mr Tsang to serve out the remainder of Mr Tung's term. 'After 21/2 years of the ministerial system experiment, top civil servants are pinning their hopes on Mr Tsang bringing more familiar faces into the ruling team'