When the Basic Law was drafted in the 1980s, it was not possible to foresee what Hong Kong would be like 20 or 30 years down the road. Understandably, the drafters used general language regarding future elections.
Thus, Article 45 says that the "ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures". It also says that the exact method "shall be specified in light of the actual situation" in Hong Kong.
The term "broadly representative" had a soothing effect, assuring people that the election will be genuinely democratic. But now that we are being asked to offer opinions on the 2017 election, we need to know what "broadly representative" really means.
The National People's Congress Standing Committee has said that the nominating committee "may be formed with reference to" the Election Committee. In fact, visiting mainland officials have made it clear that the nominating committee should be a replica of the Election Committee, which is widely seen as being controlled by Beijing, though there can be "appropriate adjustments".
It will have four sectors: business, the professions, labour and politicians. The first three are similar to the functional constituencies that return half of all members of the Legislative Council, and that many argue should be phased out.
The Election Committee, aside from electing the chief executive, also elected six members of Legco in 2000. After that, those seats were filled by direct elections. Clearly, the central authorities recognised that members elected by the Election Committee were not as representative as directly elected members.
The same is true of the nominating committee. Unless changes are made, candidates produced by that committee will be seen to lack legitimacy. Members of the first three sectors are not as representative as those in the fourth sector, many of whom were elected by tens of thousands of voters - hundreds of thousands in some cases.
Given the political reality of the four sectors, "appropriate adjustments" need to be made in two areas. First, members in the first three sectors should get greater legitimacy by being elected from a larger electoral base.
Second, and more important, the fourth sector must be allowed to expand. That will reflect, in the words of the Basic Law, "the actual situation" in Hong Kong today. One needed change is to include all district councillors, doubling the size of the sector. This change would give the nominating committee itself greater legitimacy.
To oppose this change on the grounds that the four sectors would no longer be of equal size is to insist that the most representative sector should have the same weight as the less representative sectors. It is, in effect, to negate the promise that the nominating committee will be "broadly representative".