Blunder or cunning ploy from a wily political veteran? Two theories emerged yesterday to explain Martin Lee Chu-ming's proposal for electoral reform.
A day after Lee retracted his "rash" idea, former Democrat Andrew Cheng Kar-foo raised the possibility that he had deliberately spoken out to help the pan-democrats, testing the water and issuing a warning to Beijing with his proposal.
Some other Democrats were not convinced, however, and Lee himself blamed "psychological fatigue" for his actions.
Lee, founding chairman of the Democratic Party, had suggested at least five candidates should be allowed to run in the 2017 race, making it possible for at least one pan-democrat to gain entry into the poll. But this would mean accepting the 1,200-strong nominating committee, with its formation based on the existing election committee, and that candidates be nominated by the committee "as a whole", as suggested by Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee.
The proposal got a frosty response from other pan-democrats, and Lee retracted the plan on Thursday, apologising for his "rash decision".
But Cheng, a programme host at the online broadcaster D100 who interviewed Lee on Wednesday and Thursday, suspected him of displaying greater political cunning than he was letting on.
"At first I didn't believe he was testing the water, [but the more I asked], the more I felt that he was demonstrating how much criticism would be aroused by such a bottom line," Cheng said.
From Lee's example, pan-democrats now know it is impossible to accept Qiao's framework, Cheng said, while Beijing would also be alerted about the pan-democrats' difficulties. "But I don't think the central government will change because of this," he said.
Cheng was a founding member of the Democratic Party but quit over its support for a controversial electoral package in 2010.
Political analyst Dr James Sung Lap-kung said testing Beijing's reaction "could be an unintended consequence" of Lee's proposal. But Sung, as well as Democrats Albert Ho Chun-yan, Sin Chung-kai and Lee Wing-tat - who had dinner with Lee on Wednesday - were convinced that Lee had simply been rash.
Speaking on the radio yesterday, Martin Lee reiterated that he was wrong because the proposal was technically bowing to political reality and it went against his long-standing beliefs.
"I have always stood firm on principles and ideals, so why would I bow to reality? I thought about that later on, and maybe I was tired spiritually - [because] we have been fighting for so long, and we are still in a framework [suggested by Qiao]," Lee said.
He said he had been busy doing interviews since early morning on Tuesday, so he was "not sensitive enough" during an interview in the afternoon when he raised the controversial proposal.
Lee admitted it would be difficult for "moderate and compromising" proposals to be raised in the future, so the key was still in Beijing's hands.