The pro-democracy camp's decision to take part in elections for members of the committee which will choose the next chief executive looks set to make this year's polls livelier than in the past. As the nomination process for the sub-sector elections began yesterday, canvassing was conducted in earnest. The relatively high level of interest is in sharp contrast to the apathy that marked the last elections in 2000. Back then, the democrats boycotted the polls, sticking to the principled stance that it is undemocratic to have Hong Kong's leader selected by an 800-member Election Committee. Now that they have sensibly decided to field a candidate, legislator Alan Leong Kah-kit, to contest next year's chief executive election, they are campaigning actively in a bid to get as many of their supporters on the committee as possible. The composition of the Election Committee is such that it is dominated by people who are likely to vote for Beijing's preferred candidate, Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. However, in the sub-sectors for professionals, which return 200 members of the committee, there is genuine competition for seats. Some of the democrats' preferred candidates can therefore be expected to win a place on the committee. The number will have a crucial bearing on whether Mr Leong will be able to get the 100 nominations required from committee members to stand for chief executive. It is not easy, before the formal start of the chief executive election itself, to persuade candidates vying for a seat on the committee to disclose who they intend to back for the top job. But it is reasonable to assume that candidates preferred by the democrats are likely to nominate Mr Leong. It will not be easy for Mr Leong, or any other challenger to Mr Tsang, to get 100 nominations. The last two chief executive elections in 2002 and last year were uncontested, as the winning candidates were nominated by more than 700 committee members. The whole process would, however, benefit from a contest between at least two candidates. This would boost public interest in the election and encourage more open debate of the important policy issues at stake. Mr Tsang would still almost certainly win. But he would come under greater pressure to spell out a detailed blueprint for Hong Kong's future and to defend it publicly when challenged by his opponent. However competitive this process becomes, it should not be forgotten that the total electorate for sub-sectors numbers just 220,000 voters. There is a need to press on with efforts to bring Hong Kong closer to the Basic Law's 'ultimate aim' of universal suffrage. The participation of the democrats in the polls will help to highlight the flaws in the election system. But it will also make the election process a little more meaningful.