Anson Chan Fang On-sang may have disappointed her supporters, but her decision not to run in next year's chief executive election should not come as any surprise. Under the current election system, her chances would be extremely slim and no one seriously expected such an experienced political operator to fight a battle she could not win. However, it says something about the credibility of the former chief secretary as a champion of democracy that even her long-awaited announcement of the inevitable became a major political and media event. At 65, barring unexpected events, she has ruled herself out of the top job. But keen interest remains in her plans for contributing ideas for Hong Kong's constitutional development, slow as the progress towards that may be. Mrs Chan's announcement is to be welcomed, if only because it clears the air. She had a public duty to put an end to speculation about her intentions, having attracted so much attention in Hong Kong and Beijing by returning to the political fray over the past year. Her decision, however, has created uncertainties about whether the pro-democracy camp can now muster the minimum of 100 nominations needed to field another candidate to run against Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen in his likely bid for re-election. The democrats will be looking to her for strong support for whoever tries to step into her shoes. It is important they come up with the most broadly acceptable candidate. However remote the chances of anyone who opposes Beijing's favoured candidate even making a contest of it in the Election Committee, an unopposed nomination sends an even worse message. Even Mr Tsang and Beijing would probably prefer to see some token opposition in order to lend some credibility to the election process. That said, they will be very relieved that Mrs Chan will not run. She may not have posed a real danger, but she would have been capable of causing discomfort by drawing Mr Tsang into real debate about political development. Any other pro-democracy candidate, if there is to be one, will not carry anywhere near the same weight. That is sad for Hong Kong, as is the reality that, given a predetermined election result, anyone willing to stand will be little more than part of the background. But it remains important to encourage others to offer themselves, if only to give Mr Tsang some opposition and show Beijing that Hong Kong does care about the election and is not prepared to resign itself to the dream of universal suffrage being just that - a dream. Mrs Chan's decision not to run for chief executive does not mean that she will drop out of the limelight. As promised, she unveiled the membership of a core group that will push for the development of universal suffrage and good governance. Sadly, some prominent people who will contribute to the work of this group prefer not to reveal themselves. That fact speaks for itself about the need to promote and protect democratic freedoms. Under Mrs Chan's guidance, the core group has the opportunity to come up with proposals that can help maintain the momentum of progress towards universal suffrage. It can also act as a bridge for ideas between the democratic camp and the government, Beijing and the Commission on Strategic Development - the government-appointed body responsible for drawing up a road map for reform. It could be argued now that more importance has been attached to Mrs Chan's re-emergence on the political stage than it merited. But the real significance of it may not be any personal ambitions the retired civil servant may have, but her ability to highlight the pro-democracy cause.