More than 20 politicians and academics joined Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor at a dinner last night to discuss political reform.
One key question raised by officials was what would happen if the central government refused to appoint someone elected chief executive by universal suffrage in 2017, a pan-democrat political scientist revealed.
Professor Chan Kin-man, a core organiser of the Occupy Central movement, said the question reflected the administration's concern about such a possibility and also indicated it was thinking about pan-democrat candidates taking part in the election.
However, the minister for constitutional affairs, Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, suggested the government was not greatly worried about the issue.
A public consultation early next year on electoral methods would seek views on a re-run should Beijing refuse to recognise the winner, a source familiar with the matter said last month.
Last night's dinner at Government House was hosted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.
It was the latest in a series of gatherings hosted by Leung. Lam's presence raised the level of official involvement - Tam was the highest-ranking minister at a dinner last month. At the next one, on Tuesday, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung will join the line-up.
Critics have dismissed the dinners as little more than publicity stunts.
Civic Party executive committee member Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, who attended the dinner, called on the administration to stop making "political gestures" and start public consultation on reform before the end of the year.
"I don't even know whether everyone is interested in talking about political reform. So I rather hope that [Leung] won't organise such things any more because you really need a consultation to get things moving," he said.
Joseph Wong Wing-ping, a former secretary of the civil service, questioned why Yuen would not join the official dinner delegation until next week. "If the government really wants a true discussion, why are they sending one more [official] at a time?"
Last night was the first time in months that Lam had sat down with people from across the political spectrum to discuss reform.
Also attending was Dr Chang Chak-yan, convenor of the Silent Majority for Hong Kong, which opposed Occupy Central; Sze Wing-ching, co-founder and director of Centaline Property; and Christine Fang Meng-sang, former director of the Hong Kong Council of Social Service.