Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang renewed her call for a popular mandate for the nominating committee in the 2017 chief executive election, but said the new model may be limited in how much it can differ from the current set-up.
While it was difficult to ensure a "perfectly" democratic election in 2017, Hongkongers would accept no less than "genuine steps forward" in political reform, Chan said yesterday.
The remarks by Chan, who chairs the moderate pan-democratic group Hong Kong 2020, came a month after former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie dismissed a pan-democratic call for all 3.2 million registered voters to choose the members of the next nominating committee.
Leung said that would run counter to a decision by the National People's Congress Standing Committee made six years ago on the 2017 poll.
That decision said the chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, "upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures" - as stipulated in the Basic Law.
But it also said the composition of the committee could be modelled on the current Election Committee, which nominates and picks the chief executive.
The committee was elected by about 240,000 voters, and comprises four sectors: industrial, commercial and financial; professionals; labour, social services and religious bodies; and legislators, district councillors and Hong Kong deputies to the National People's Congress.
While some pan-democrats suggested that the four sectors should be scrapped, Chan proposed a more pragmatic approach in the interview yesterday.
"If we were starting from scratch, I think certainly we could consider a nominating committee that reflected majority view, i.e. one man, one vote," she said. "But we have these four sectors which have been tied to the Legislative Council election for many years.
"However much I personally would like to see a more democratically based nominating committee, we may have to accept retention of the four sectors," Chan said, noting this was only her personal view.
"While it may be difficult in 2017 to have a perfect, democratically elected nominating committee … what Hong Kong people most want are some genuine steps forward that will achieve universal suffrage".
Chan pointed to the removal of corporate voting, which enabled some individuals and entities to have multiple votes.
She also said that the imbalance among subsectors in the current 1,200-member committee should be reviewed.
It was unfair for agriculture and fisheries to occupy 60 seats, while the banking and financial services sectors had 18 seats each, Chan argued.
She remained confident that the business sector understood the importance of democratic reform, even after pro-business lawmakers had raised doubts over Executive Council convenor Lam Woon-kwong's suggestion that all functional constituencies in the legislature should be abolished in 2020.
"It's hardly surprising that the business sector has criticised [this]," Chan said. "But I have a feeling there are more people in business who can see that our current constitutional structure does not enable the government to govern effectively."
She said public consultation on the reforms should be started as soon as possible.
New People's Party lawmaker and executive councillor Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee agreed, saying the consultation should start early next year at the latest.
"It would be too late to start it in May next year," Ip said in a video interview with Emily Lau Wai-hing for the online OurTV.