CY Leung 'will leave the slaughter of public nomination to Beijing'
Government attempts to soothe divisions over plans for the chief executive election, but says nominating committee 'cannot be undermined'
The government's implied rather than explicit rejection of public nomination in reports on political reform released yesterday was described as a delaying tactic to prevent an immediate breakdown of ties with pan- democrats.
One political commentator described it as a means of leaving it to Beijing to be the "slaughterer" of the idea that all voters should be able to nominate chief executive candidates, a proposal put forward by several pro-democracy groups and backed by hundreds of thousands of voters in an unofficial referendum.
Constitutional affairs minister Raymond Tam Chi-yuen meanwhile suggested "public recommendation" under which the public could put forward non-binding recommendations to the nominating committee.
"Our principle is that any proposals that do not undermine the power of the nominating committee are welcome. Any scholars who want to discuss this further will be welcomed," Tam said.
Such a compromise proposal is unlikely to appease pan-democrats however.
The two reports on reform, delivered by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said "mainstream views" were against public nomination, but they did not provide any data to support the claim.
A consultation report, presented by Lam, said one such view was that the Basic Law "has clearly provided that the power to nominate chief executive candidates is vested in the nominating committee only; the power is a substantive one and cannot be undermined or bypassed directly or indirectly".
Watch: Lawmakers throw objects at Carrie Lam during universal suffrage report
Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said this implied that public nomination was "already out of the question".
The local and central governments have repeatedly said that public nomination would not be compatible with the Basic Law. But it was supported by 90 per cent of the 790,000 who took part in an unofficial referendum on electoral reform last month.
Ivan Choy Chi-keung, also from Chinese University, said the government, not wanting to be the "slaughterer" - wanted to pass the responsibility for officially ruling out public nomination to Beijing.
"The government might have pacified some pan-democrats before it released the report in order to buy time to do some last-minute negotiation with the political parties over the matter," Choy said.
Choy's observation was reflected in the relatively moderate stance taken by Labour Party leader Lee Cheuk-yan yesterday.
Lee said he still saw room to fight for genuine universal suffrage because Lam had not spelt out a definite framework for the chief executive election. He was more disappointed in the failure to propose any major change to the Legislative Council elections.
"The door [to democracy] is not closed yet … and I can still see there's a half glass of water out there," he said.
A pan-democratic source said that many in the camp believed breaking with the government at this stage would only trigger an even sterner stance on reform by the central government.
Referring to "civic recommendation", Tam specifically mentioned schemes proposed by Albert Chen Hung-yee, a law professor at the University of Hong Kong, and a group of 18 academics.
Under a plan put forward by the latter which Lam said was compatible with the Basic Law, candidates who received signatures of support from 2 per cent of registered voters could have their names put to the nominating committee. If they then received the support of an eighth of committee members they could stand for election.
Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said she was wary about such public recommendation.
"The key point about public nomination is that it is the best way to prevent political screening of candidates," Eu said.
"There is a high risk in public recommendation, since someone can get in but cannot get out," Eu said, meaning that a candidate could easily be rejected by the nominating committee even though he or she had enough signatures from voters.
The pan-democrats will hold a special meeting today to discuss the reports.
On forming the nominating committee, the consultation report said that "quite a number of organisations from different sectors and a majority of political parties" said the committee should follow the structure of the election committee that selected the current chief executive.
Xinhua said meanwhile that no one should doubt the central government's attitude towards Hong Kong achieving universal suffrage.
Long and winding road to democracy
April: The National People's Congress Standing Committee releases an interpretation of the Basic Law which puts forward a "five-step process" for amending the methods for selecting the chief executive and forming the legislature.
The committee rules out universal suffrage for the chief executive election in 2007 or Legislative Council elections in 2008. It says the system of functional constituencies, by which half of the seats in the legislature are returned, should stay, and that the so-called split voting system for voting on bills and motions in the legislature is to remain unchanged.
October: The government issues reform proposals for the 2007 chief executive election and Legco elections in 2008. The proposals suggest that the number of members in the Election Committee, which selects the chief executive, be doubled to 1,600, and the number of seats in the legislature be increased by 10, to 70. They also say that half the Legco seats should be returned by geographical constituencies through direct elections and the rest by functional constituencies.
December: The proposed reforms fail to win endorsement from Legco.
December: The Standing Committee decides that the chief executive can be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, and that all seats in Legco can be returned through direct elections following that.
November: The government releases a consultation document on electoral arrangements for the chief executive and Legco in 2012. It sets out the minimum number of nominations a candidate will need from an expanded election committee to stand for chief executive. It also says all district council seats in the legislature should be filled by elected councillors in 2012.
January: Five pan-democrat lawmakers resign to trigger by-elections that they see as a de facto referendum on universal suffrage in 2012.
April: Based on the previous consultation document, the government releases its proposals on political reform.
May: Legco by-elections are held. All five lawmakers who resigned in January are elected again. Senior members of the Democratic Party hold a meeting on political reform with officials from Beijing's liaison office.
June: The government puts forward proposals to Legco on arrangements for the chief executive election and Legco polls in 2012. The Democratic Party supports the proposals, which it says incorporate the party's suggestion that five new district council functional-constituency seats be chosen by the electorate, the majority of which do not get to vote on the other functional constituencies. The reform package is eventually passed by Legco.
December: The government launches a five-month public consultation on electoral reforms for the 2017 chief executive election and 2016 Legco elections.
June: Occupy Central protest organisers hold a 10-day unofficial referendum on models for the 2017 chief executive election. All models call for the public to be able to nominate candidates. About 720,000 people vote for them.
The State Council issues a white paper on Hong Kong's development. It reiterates Beijing's commitment to supporting Hong Kong's moves towards universal suffrage, but warns against letting an "unpatriotic" chief executive take the helm.
July: Organisers claim 510,000 people take to the streets in a march calling for democracy.