The debate on whether a limit should be set on the number of candidates in the 2017 chief executive election has been renewed after the central government's liaison office shot down a proposal to let all voters nominate chief executive candidates.
The issue also emerged as one of the key topics among people from across the political spectrum during a dinner hosted by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying on Tuesday night.
In the past, there was little controversy about the number of candidates in the race, as the Election Committee, which was expanded to 1,200 members last year but remained dominated by Beijing-loyalists, nominated and elected the chief executive.
Candidates had to have a minimum of 150 votes to be nominated, but only three won enough for their bid last year - Leung Chun-ying, Henry Tang Ying-yen and Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan.
In March, Qiao Xiaoyang , chairman of the National People's Congress Law Committee, stoked the debate by saying members of the "opposition" camp who insisted on confronting the central government could not become chief executive. He said the city also had to decide how the nominating committee should work, and how many candidates should be put forward. Although the pan-democratic camp worried Qiao was suggesting they could be "screened" out, pro-Beijing politicians explained there should not be "too many" candidates.
One of them was Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun, an executive councillor who was director of Leung's transitional office after he was elected in March last year.
Law said she favoured a three-horse race. "I think three candidates would be manageable. With fewer candidates, the election debate would be more orderly and would allow differentiation of each candidate's manifesto, and evaluation of their vision and abilities," she said.
Law's view seemed to echo that of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen.
In his report to the National People's Congress Standing Committee in 2007, Tsang hinted that many were of the view that "it would be more appropriate to have two to four chief executive candidates, at most, when universal suffrage is implemented".
Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun was also keen on the idea of three candidates.
"If it includes one pan-democrat, the [pro-democracy] camp would be satisfied," he said.
With the Alliance for True Democracy - which comprises 26 of 27 pan-democratic lawmakers - advocating a public nomination process, to grant some or all voters the right to nominate the chief executive candidates, it seems unlikely, however, that a cap will gain favour among the pan-democrats' camp.
In theory, public nomination could allow dozens of candidates to run, but the alliance says that, under its proposal, the winner would be decided in two rounds of elections. After the initial vote, the top two candidates would enter a second round if no one won an absolute majority.
"There's simply no need for an artificial limit on the number of candidates," said the Democrats' vice-chairman Richard Tsoi Yiu-cheong after Tuesday's dinner.
Tsoi's party colleague, former lawmaker Cheung Man-kwong, said: "The most important thing is to design [a system] by which people with different political beliefs could enter the race … [Politics] is not about mathematics."
Charles Cheung Hok-sau, of the Friends of Hong Kong Association, quoted Wang Guangya , director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, as saying earlier this week that Beijing would keep a watchful eye on the nomination of candidates and appointment of the winner.