The Executive Council convenor and Beijing-loyalist newspaper Ta Kung Pao have weighed into a debate on the annual July 1 march for democracy, urging the administration to give a more progressive response to demands for political reform.
In an editorial yesterday, Ta Kung Pao said it was "completely possible" for Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to make an "initial response" to calls for a political overhaul.
The opinion may be a sign of Beijing taking a more pragmatic line to reform in Hong Kong, an organiser of the Occupy Central democracy movement says.
It echoed one in the mainland state-run Global Times on Tuesday - saying the July 1 march had become a "new traditional ritual" - that observers also saw as signalling a shift in Beijing's attitude.
Separately, Exco convenor Lam Woon-kwong said Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen should engage lawmakers on the issue. "Officials such as Tam could [say], 'Even though we haven't started our consultation yet, we are willing to listen and exchange views'."
Leung has repeatedly said constitutional procedures on reform would be initiated at an appropriate time, but Lam warned: "If this jargon is used frequently, people will start to doubt if you are simply procrastinating."
He also urged legislators to ensure universal suffrage in 2017. "If [they] give up this chance, frankly, all the 70 lawmakers will be sinners, because if we prolong this government deadlock … Hong Kong will continue to lag in competitiveness and the people's misery … will drag on."
Lam spoke a day after Beijing-loyalist lawmakers called for Leung to listen to the demands of the Monday marchers.
The Civil Human Rights Front, organiser of the rally, said 430,000 marched, while the University of Hong Kong estimated about 100,000. Ta Kung Pao said: "Even if there were only tens of thousands … as long as they were Hongkongers, and had really turned up with different demands or discontents, the government must listen to them and examine their opinions seriously and with a humble heart."
It noted that a strong demand of the participants who braved the inclement weather was that universal suffrage must be fair, just and in line with expectations.
It was "completely possible for the chief executive to tell residents in a frank, open and responsible manner that … the administration will table proposals at an appropriate time next year".
"The government must … give an initial response" so as not to let Occupy Central activists and those who suspect Beijing would introduce sham universal suffrage "dominate the media and continue to mislead people".
Occupy Central organiser Dr Chan Kin-man said Ta Kung Pao's view indicated the central leadership could be starting to face up to reality. "Maybe it has realised previous criticism on Occupy Central has backfired and failed to curb [support for us]."