Four executive councillors weighed in on the democracy debate over the weekend, with one questioning whether "one man, one vote" should apply to the 2017 poll for the city's top job.
The remark, from Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, drew immediate criticism from University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting, one of the organisers of Occupy Central, a movement to demand full democracy. But Tai called on Beijing to sit down with both sides of politics to find the right electoral path for the city.
Universal suffrage in the 2017 chief executive election was guaranteed in 2007 by Beijing.
Lam's remarks come two days before Beijing's liaison office chief Zhang Xiaoming is due to appear at an unprecedented lunch with Legco members.
Speaking on an RTHK programme yesterday, Lam, also a Business and Professionals Alliance lawmaker, said: "Changes are needed. But does it necessarily have to be your proposal? … The most important thing is that it is a step forward.
"A lot of people are saying that it is not universal suffrage if it is not 'one person, one vote'. I don't want to argue [but] it is not 'one person, one vote' in the United States," Lam said, adding this was also not the case in Britain and Germany. As to whether it should be "one person, one vote" or expanding the existing system, he said it should be discussed. But Tai disagreed, saying the United Nations rules required all voters to have equal participation in a poll for it to be universal suffrage. He added: "Everyone, including the pan-democrats, [should] have further discussions with the pro-establishment camp and Beijing."
And in response to Exco member Bernard Chan's suggestion on Saturday that the consultation begin within six months, Tai said that could mean a proposal might be on the table by July next year - when Occupy Central will take to the streets if it is not satisfied with the plan.
Also on Saturday, Exco member Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun said a proposal from the Alliance for True Democracy "extended the Basic Law too far". The alliance was seeking nomination by petition, which would allow any candidate who garnered signatures from 2 per cent of eligible voters to be endorsed by the nominating committee to run for office.
Yesterday, Tai defended the plan, saying the Basic Law had "great scope for interpretation".
Meanwhile, Starry Lee Wai-king, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, warned yesterday of the "great social repercussions" should the government fail to deliver universal suffrage.
Separately, Basic Law Institute chairman Alan Hoo also put forward their proposal for 2017.