They were seated on opposite sides of the host in a debate on Hong Kong's political future. But when it comes to their views about becoming politicians, the differences between Audrey Eu Yuet-mee and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee have become very small. Recalling her decision to return to Hong Kong after finishing a master's degree at Stanford University in 2006, Mrs Ip, a former secretary for security, said she had dropped the idea of rejoining the governing team after almost 30 years in the bureaucracy. 'If I were to return to politics, I need a mandate,' Mrs Ip said. Although her election debut was frustrated by Anson Chan Fang On-sang in the Hong Kong Island Legislative Council by-election in late 2006, she won a seat in the 2008 poll. When asked - during the debate hosted by the Political Science Association on Monday - what she would do if she could only achieve one thing in her present term, Mrs Ip said she would strive to 'get rid of all the incompetence and mediocrity inside and outside the government'. Applauding anyone who took a dive into democratic elections, Ms Eu, of the Civic Party, said that would be the best way to nurture political talent. The fact that she is adamant Hong Kong deserves a better government has become a driving force in her efforts to take her political journey forward. The pair's approach to seek changes in the development of Hong Kong through an elected office contrasts markedly with the ambivalent attitude of the first batch of government-appointed political assistants when they were asked whether they would take up politics as a career. According to the Chinese-language Sing Tao Daily, only three of the nine assistants hand-picked by Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen last year have indicated a clear intention to participate further in politics after their current term ends in 2012. If given an opportunity, Caspar Tsui Ying-wai, the political assistant to the secretary for home affairs, said he hoped to become an undersecretary. None of the political assistants expressed an interest in taking on the challenge of seeking a public mandate through the ballot box to advance their career, however. This is despite the strategic move by Mr Tsang to install two extra layers of accountable officials to help, among other things, groom political talent. Admittedly, there are different paths for people who are committed to serving the community. Taking part in elections is just one, but not the only, channel. Yet, as Hong Kong moves towards universal suffrage, at the earliest in 2017, political aspirants who are keen to turn their vision into reality will have to win people's trust and support. Much has been said about the three 'Ps' - politics, policy and public relations - of governance. Former chief executive Tung Chee-hwa lamented that he did not do well in politics and public relations while maintaining he had got the policy part right, or at least the ideas. With an impeccable record in the civil service plus a better sense of politics and public relations, there were high expectations of Mr Tsang when he took over from Mr Tung in 2005. The fact that Mr Tsang has not yet been able to deliver his election pledge to 'get the job done' says something about the predicament of a government without a popular mandate and devoid of steady support from an elected legislature when making tough policy decisions. Politics need not be a game of mud-wrestling, as Chief Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen joked at a news awards ceremony. It does, however, require aspirants to use their hearts and minds and work up a sweat to gain the trust and mandate of their fellow citizens. Chris Yeung is the Post's editor-at-large.