Can you have one person, one vote while still backsliding on universal suffrage? The latest pronouncement by Qiao Xiaoyang seems to suggest this.
The chairman of the National People's Congress' law committee said any chief executive candidate would need majority support from a nomination committee.
Whatever "majority" means, it looks like a serious raising of the current nomination threshold, which only required each candidate in last year's chief executive race to secure nomination by at least 150 supporters in the 1,200-member election committee.
Suppose we have a system in 2017 similar to the one last year for the chief executive race, with the main difference being that the entire electorate could cast a vote.
OK, the vetting of candidates would be tougher. You probably would need more than 150 endorsements as the number of committee members considerably expands. But that's a system I believe would be acceptable to many - if not most - Hongkongers.
The key point is that no one is automatically excluded on the basis of ideology or party affiliation. It is a system that let in former Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan as a chief executive candidate last year.
Qiao did not spell out the details, but the nomination method he hinted at would require a maximum - not minimum - number of supporters to back a ticket. This is a regression, and not an improvement on our current system. The chairman also mentioned being patriotic (loving Hong Kong and loving China) as a requirement, which has sparked great controversy. But that's just semantics. It's the control of the majority of votes in a nomination committee that would be the key.
As frequently as I criticise pan-democrats for being their own worst enemies, I do not believe any vetting system that automatically excludes them can be considered legitimate or sustainable. That would only worsen social tensions in Hong Kong, its governability and the difficult relationship between the city and the mainland.
The Hong Kong people are pragmatic and can produce candidates who can work with Beijing, whatever their party affiliations. That would require building trust on both sides. But time is running out.