Enter Anson Chan, a charismatic 66-year-old who was a top civil servant under Tung and the last colonial Governor, Chris Patten. Chan's return to the political arena has caused a commotion. Known as "Hong Kong's conscience" for her steadfast support of the city's freedoms, Chan was mobbed by supporters and reporters when she joined this year's protest; as many as 1 in 4 demonstrators said her participation encouraged them to march. Last week, Chan gave her most detailed speech yet, criticizing the slow pace of democratic reform, and announced that she'd form a working group to look at ways of hastening its arrival. "I don't really know whether I can succeed or not," she told Time. "But at least it's worth a try."
Chan has already succeeded in putting democracy back in the headlines. "For some Hong Kong people her appearance adds to the credence of universal suffrage," says Chinese University of Hong Kong political scientist Ma Ngok. "More and more people are at least verbally supportive." Chief Executive Donald Tsang has even mused that direct elections for his post—currently filled based on the vote of only 800 mostly pro-business, pro-Beijing electors—might be possible in 2012. Will Chan challenge the popular Tsang when his term is up next year? She won't say. In an open race she'd be a tough opponent, but her odds of beating him under the present system are minimal. "I'm not too sure if she is going to run," says Ma, "but I think she wants to leave a mark on history."