The justice secretary came under fire from lawmakers and senior lawyers yesterday after writing that it would be "difficult to justify" the inclusion of public nomination in the electoral process.
Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung's dismissal of the democrats' idea, under which all registered voters could nominate chief executive candidates, was the strongest stance expressed by the government on the issue since a consultation on electoral reform was launched in December.
In an article published in the South China Morning Post and other newspapers, Yuen wrote that the idea was difficult to justify under the Basic Law because the mini-constitution made it clear that only a nominating committee had the power to nominate candidates.
"If the nominating committee cannot decline to nominate an individual once he or she has obtained the support of a certain number of registered voters, the committee's nomination power would become meaningless," he wrote.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the administration was not ruling out any proposal but was "sharing" legal views with the public.
In the article, Yuen said the democrats had apparently confused "nomination power" with "nomination procedure" in contending that "civil nomination" and "nomination by political organisations" were consistent with the Basic Law stipulation that the nominating committee's work must be "in accordance with democratic procedures".
Civic Party chairwoman and barrister Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said Yuen had got the idea wrong.
"We were saying that while the nominating committee can keep its substantial power to put forward candidates … it can also endorse candidates who fit the basic legal requirements while having broad public support. Our proposal is in line with both [the Basic Law's] text and spirit."
Party leader and lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit SC said the democrats' proposal did not negate the role or weaken the power of the nominating committee.
University of Hong Kong law dean Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun said that "as long as [civil nomination] is only one of the methods of nomination", this would not necessarily bypass the nominating committee.