Tsang Yok-sing is an enthusiastic writer and political analyst, but his role as Legislative Council president means he has had to cut back on his journalistic output. And he has to maintain a degree of impartiality in the chamber. But that doesn't mean he has completely tempered his famously outspoken opinions. A leading light in the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, Mr Tsang has long been considered a traditional leftist for his loyal support of the central government and his strong sense of nationhood. When he took the post of president of Legco last October, there was immediate speculation about whether or not he was a member of the Communist Party. For a man usually so open, there was uncharacteristic silence from Mr Tsang, who refused to comment even after DAB colleague Lau Kong-wah asked him to clarify the 'mystery'. When asked point blank by the South China Morning Post whether he held Communist Party membership, he answered: 'I am so disappointed that you asked about this. It is only a small issue. It is no big deal.' This might be the only question about politics that Mr Tsang won't answer, however. Although many consider him a pro-Beijing hardliner, no one else in the leftist camp expends so much energy putting their ideas into print, in both Chinese and English. Ma Ngok, a political commentator who has monitored Hong Kong politics for more than 10 years, maintains that Mr Tsang is not the hardliner many perceive him to be. 'People who really pay attention to Hong Kong politics would know that Mr Tsang actually is the most liberal figure in the DAB. [But] his eagerness to debate creates the image of him as an extreme hardliner,' Professor Ma said. Therefore, it should have been no surprise that, while a member of the Executive Council, he joined with pan-democrats in appealing to President Hu Jintao for the release of jailed journalist Ching Cheong on medical grounds. Instead of avoiding certain topics the pro-establishment camp might consider too delicate, he is happy to wade into issues such as the timetable for direct elections, writing in one piece: 'Beijing may now be more willing to introduce universal suffrage at an early date'. Mr Tsang is well known for losing his temper with reporters when he thinks their questions are not up to his exacting standards, and his frankness and wit are usually evident whether he is on the political stage or not. Since taking up his post as Legco president, he is required to be a bit more circumspect, however, because his position prevents him from debating with other members. Outside the chamber, that old forthrightness is back, for example on one topic that really touches a nerve with Mr Tsang - Beijing's position on candidates for chief executive. He believes the central government should accept a chief executive of any political stripe instead of arranging an election which rules out those candidates who are 'not preferred'. He also argued that the current commitments from Beijing on universal suffrage were not enough to guarantee a smooth transition. 'It is possible that a popular political figure who is not approved by Beijing will be elected chief executive. Then what is going to happen?' he asked. 'There is a possibility that Alan Leong Kah-kit [the losing candidate in 2007] will get elected as the chief executive. Will the central government approve his appointment then? It is 2009, but there is not any communication between Mr Leong and the central government,' he added. In 2007, Beijing decided that universal suffrage could be introduced for the chief executive election in 2017, and for all of Legco in 2020. 'Leaders like President Hu Jintao and Vice-President Xi Jinping should be open to candidates from all political camps instead of ruling out some candidates. I believe communication and understanding are required to remove all barriers. This is the Obama spirit; we have to change,' he said. 'They should not order Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to get rid of candidates from the Civic Party or League of Social Democrats. Donald Tsang should also let his bosses know that it is possible that some people considered as having linking with overseas authorities might be elected. '[Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs] Stephen Lam Sui-lung should also let his boss know that the Democratic Party might possibly become the biggest party when there is universal suffrage,' said Mr Tsang, adding mischievously that he might offend the central government with such thoughts. As president of Hong Kong's legislative body, he believes he has a role in helping to map the city's political future. 'I am now in a position that offers me a platform to talk with the parties, the Hong Kong government and the central government honestly. But I have not achieved any result at this moment,' he said. He believes the conflict in Hong Kong politics over the past decade has led to greater polarisation and created an obstacle to becoming a successful democracy, adding we could learn from the example of the US presidential election. 'During the election, both candidates attacked each other fiercely. But, once the election finished, the losing camp expressed support immediately to the winning camp. In Iraq, no matter which party wins, the losing camp has to suffer a miserable outcome. This is not a successful democracy,' said Mr Tsang, a keen student of international affairs. 'Hong Kong's politics should not be as polarised as it is now,' he said, adding that the current divisions had their roots in the 1990s. Mr Tsang has first-hand experience of that conflict - as Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong chairman before the handover, he criticised former governor Chris Patten as being hostile to the Preliminary Working Committee members. The current divisions sadden the Legco president. 'The pro-Beijing camp should not think the pan-democratic camp is working for the US with conspiracies, while the pan-democratic camp should not think we are only here to destroy human rights and are working for the central government only.' He said both camps were too suspicious of each other, and argued the 'reconciliation' between Beijing and the pan-democrats proposed by former legislator Lau Chin-shek in 2004 was the way ahead. Though cagey about his links with the Communist Party, he repeatedly proclaims himself to be a materialist, subscribing to the view that history solves all problems. 'The conflict has originated from the Beijing government. But I believe history will solve these problems eventually. Just like Obama's time came after eight years of rule by George Bush.' Because of his DAB background, Mr Tsang has had to move cautiously as president and, over the past three months, his popularity has been lower than that of his predecessor Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai. She was seen as close to Beijing but had no party affiliations. Mr Tsang once said that he understood some people 'do not like me' but he would carry out his duties as an impartial referee. He has had his hands full with the League of Social Democrats trio of 'Long Hair' Leung Kwok-hung, Albert Chan Wai-yip and Wong Yuk-man, being forced to expel them from the chamber. The trio hit out at Donald Tsang when he attended Legco for a question-and-answer session last month, while Mr Wong threw a bunch of bananas at the chief executive in the chamber last October. 'I don't think this is going to affect the Legco culture, it is only an individual case,' said Mr Tsang, who admitted that he and the secretariat were prepared for the 'attack' last month, making provision for adjournments. 'They have three people. We have considered before whether there is a need to adjourn the meeting three times. If the meeting is adjourned the first time, we expect the other two members will have follow-up actions. There is no instant reaction, it is all discussed,' he said. Mr Tsang conceded that some members of the community supported the actions of the three, based on responses on the internet, but he was not the right person to comment. After standing down as chairman of the DAB following the party's poor performance in the 2003 district council elections, Mr Tsang has often made noises about his wish to retire and spend more time with his grandson, whose picture is proudly displayed as the wallpaper on both his computer and mobile phone. However, his continued elevation means those plans are on hold. 'You might not believe me, but I never consider my political career. I just happen to be here,' he said.