Onwards with gradual and orderly progress
The procedure for introducing any change to the constitutional setup of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region was stipulated in an interpretation of the Basic Law in April 2004 by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
In case there is a need to amend the method of selecting the chief executive or the method of forming the Legislative Council, says the interpretation, the chief executive will submit a report to the standing committee, which will then take a decision in accordance with the provisions in the Basic Law and on the basis of the actual situation in Hong Kong, and the principle of gradual and orderly progress.
Bills and draft amendments regarding the revision of the methods for the selection of both will then be proposed to Legco by the SAR government.
Following the standing committee's interpretation, then chief executive Tung Chee-hwa submitted a report to the central government in the middle of April 2004, suggesting that methods for electing the chief executive in 2007 and Legco in 2008 should be amended.
After deliberating on the report, the standing committee decided that the election methods could be changed, but the changes should be consistent with the principle of gradual and orderly progress, and that the 2007 and 2008 elections should not be by universal suffrage.
In accordance with the standing committee's decision, the constitutional development taskforce of the SAR government published a consultation document (the third report of the taskforce) to collect public views on the methods of the elections in 2007 and 2008.
Six months later, in December 2004, the taskforce published another document (the fourth report), summarising the submissions it had collected and asking for further views from the community in order to formulate a constitutional development package that would '(stand) the best chance of achieving consensus among the various parties', including the central authorities, the SAR government, Legco and the general public.
The consultation period lasted until the end of May 2005, and the reform package formulated by the government was then revealed in the fifth report, published in October 2005.
Although the package was supported by more than 60 per cent of the public, and the central authorities had clearly indicated their approval, it failed to clear the hurdle of obtaining the support of a two-thirds majority of Legco, with all pan-democrats voting against it.
The publication of the green paper last week marks the commencement of the government's latest bid to take the constitutional development forward.
At the conclusion of the three-month consultation period, it is highly unlikely the government will be able to distil the 'mainstream views' collected into a specific reform package that will be acceptable to all parties.
Rather, the government will submit a report to the central authorities reflecting the views expressed.
The standing committee will respond to the report, saying it agrees that election methods in the SAR can be amended, as it did in 2004.
Most probably, the standing committee will also lay down, as it did in 2004, a set of conditions the central government will insist any reform package should comply with.
As in 2005, the SAR government can formulate specific proposals for constitutional reform only after relevant parameters have been defined by the central government.
If, as suggested by the pan-democrats, the government must provide more than one option so that people can make a choice, then the various options must all satisfy the conditions laid down by the standing committee, in order that the result of the people's choice can be endorsed by the central government.
Tsang Yok-sing is a directly elected legislator for Kowloon West