Leading business executives have left the political party that aspired to be their voice in the Legislative Council, leaving the sector without a united force to represent its interests. Debate is likely to become more polarised as a result, say observers of the political scene. The executives are among the 60 per cent of Liberal Party members who have jumped ship or been struck off its membership roll for not paying their dues since its electoral rout last year and subsequent split. The loss of 624 members has left the party with just 412, making it the second-smallest of Hong Kong's five major political groupings. Some business executives have joined Economic Synergy, a group set up in June by legislators who quit the Liberals, but one observer of the political scene believes some people in business have grown disenchanted with politics. The decline of the Liberals is a big turnaround for a party that, little more than a decade ago, aspired to become the city's ruling party. Founding chairman Allen Lee Peng-fei said the party had only itself to blame for the exodus. It had flip-flopped too often under pressure from Beijing and the Hong Kong government. Among the big names to have left the party since September are Airport Authority chief executive Stanley Hui Hon-chung; Herbert Hui Ho-ming, a former deputy chief executive of Hong Kong Exchanges and Clearing; designer Kan Tai-keung; Henderson Land Development executive director Suen Kwok-lam; and Michael Li Hon-sing, executive director of the Federation of Hong Kong Hotel Owners. Steven Poon Kwok-lim and Lau Wah-sum, former legislators who co-founded the party in 1993, quit in November. Most lost their membership because they did not pay their annual dues of HK$150 on time. Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said memberships would be terminated once fees were three months overdue. 'Prior to September last year, this requirement was not so strictly enforced,' she said. Ms Lau, one of three surviving Liberal Party lawmakers, said the party believed that a smaller, but more committed and united membership was 'perhaps better than having a larger membership that is mostly inactive'. Membership plunged from 1,473 in 1997 to 253 in 1998, mostly because members had not paid their dues. The party had 881 members by May 2006, when it disclosed its membership list for the first time. The party plans a membership drive at the end of this year. James Sung Lap-kung, a political analyst at City University, said the business sector lacked an organised and strong force to represent its interests in the wake of the party's demise. 'Compared with the pan-democrats and the pro-Beijing camp, the Liberal Party has been seen as a centre-right force in Hong Kong's political spectrum,' Dr Sung said. 'Political debate will become more polarised after its influence wanes.' Dr Sung said it was important the business sector had a political voice. The Liberals won seven functional constituency seats in last September's election but all its candidates for direct election were beaten. Among them were James Tien Pei-chun, then the party's chairman, and Selina Chow Liang Shuk-yee, then its vice-chairwoman, who lost seats they had won in 2004. Both resigned in the wake of their defeat. The electoral setback called into question the party's future and the business community's participation in politics. Things got worse for the party when, days after the poll, one of its legislators, Lau Wong-fat - the chairman of New Territories rural affairs body the Heung Yee Kuk - resigned. A month later three more legislators - Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, Sophie Leung Lau Yau-fun and Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen - followed him out of the door amid a struggle for the leadership of the party. The trio launched Economic Synergy in June. They were joined by Mr Suen, the Henderson director, and kuk chief Mr Lau. The group's convenor, Mr Lam, said it had recruited more than 100 members, including former Liberals. Mr Lee, the founding chairman, said the party had missed an opportunity to exploit Mr Tien's resignation from the Executive Council in 2003 in protest at the government's decision to put forward national-security legislation to enact Article 23 of the Basic Law. Many observers saw the resignation as the Liberals' finest hour. 'James Tien failed to capitalise on a golden opportunity ... to broaden the party's appeal beyond the business sector,' Mr Lee said. Mr Lee quit the party that year over policy differences. Ivan Choy Chi-keung, a political scientist at Chinese University, said the political zeal of many businesspeople was not enduring. 'Some people who joined the Liberal Party in the 1990s may have decided to fade out from the political arena after finding that the reward for pursuing a political career is not that big,' he said. Mr Poon, a former Liberal vice-chairman, said he left the party because he had not played a role in its affairs for a decade. 'My mission has ended. My departure has nothing to do with the party's defeat in last year's Legco election,' he said. Among business executives still in the party are Henderson Land executive director Alexander Au Siu-kee, Wharf Transport Investment director Frankie Yick Chi-ming, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries Cliff Sun Kai-lit, and Cheung Kong (Holdings) executive director Justin Chiu Kwok-hung.