A lunch today is set to mark a key point on Hong Kong's long road to universal suffrage, as Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei lays out the legal framework for political reform before a public consultation starts next month.
Li yesterday confirmed that reform was the main item on the agenda for his three-day visit, his first since taking over as head of the committee overseeing the mini-constitution in March.
His comments as he dines with more than 100 government officials, district councillors, business leaders and lawmakers will be closely watched, especially for signs of his view on a key pan-democratic demand: that the public be given the right to nominate candidates for the 2017 chief executive election.
"I work on the Basic Law, so it is inevitable for me to talk about it. The electoral reform is a crucial issue of the Basic Law, so this visit is going to be about the reform," Li said as he arrived yesterday with the committee's vice-chairman, Zhang Rongshun .
Beijing has promised that the 2017 chief executive election will be run on a one-person, one-vote basis. But controversy remains over the details - especially how the "broadly representative" nominating committee, stipulated in the Basic Law, to choose candidates will operate.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who is hosting the lunch, said the duo would discuss electoral reform in the context of the mini-constitution.
"Their elaboration of the [Basic Law] clauses can lay a better foundation for us to commence the reform consultation," Lam said. And Lam dismissed complaints that only two pan-democratic lawmakers had been invited to today's lunch.
"It is impossible to invite 70 lawmakers en masse owing to space constraints," Lam said.
Li and Zhang's first visit was to Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung who, along with Lam and constitutional affairs chief Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, serves on the task force preparing the reform consultation.
But Yuen denied the 90-minute meeting had "laid down any rules" for the Hong Kong government to follow. The talks had "not touched on" public nomination.
He said the only framework for reform would be the Basic Law and decisions of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress.
Pan-democrat group the Alliance for True Democracy said the pair should meet all lawmakers.
Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah, one of two pan-democrats invited to today's lunch, said he feared Li would rule out public nomination.
"I hope he will listen to more views … and will not look at electoral reform only from a legal perspective," Tong said.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government hit out over a line in the annual report of the United States-China Economic and Security Review Commission, released on Wednesday, which cast doubt on the prospects for universal suffrage in the city.
"We cannot agree … that the prospects for universal suffrage by 2017 are dimming," a government spokesman said of the report. "In any event, Hong Kong's constitutional development according to the Basic Law is an internal affair."
Additional reporting by Danny Mok