Beijing's top official on Hong Kong's Basic Law finally discussed the burning issue of the public's right to nominate candidates for chief executive on the last day of his three-day visit.
Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, reiterated that the mini-constitution put the right to choose candidates in the hands of a "nominating committee" - seemingly dashing the hopes of pan-democrats that public nomination will be allowed for the 2017 election.
He also said there would be a limit on the number of candidates allowed to run.
Li's first visit since taking over as the central government's top Basic Law official has been closely watched amid expectations he would set Beijing's bottom line on reform ahead of a consultation which are due to start next month.
Political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said Li had left the Hong Kong government with little flexibility when it came to the consultation.
"No democratic country would set a cap on the number of candidates," Ma said.
"That is already a kind of screening."
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung said he hoped Li's comments would allow people to "finally concentrate on discussing how the nominating procedure within the committee would work".
Li had previously strayed away from the thorny issue of public nominations, but asked about it at a press conference yesterday, he said: "Article 45(2) … grants the right to nominate only to the nominating committee."
The Basic Law stipulates that a "broadly representative" nominating committee should put forward candidates for chief executive.
Li said on Friday that the committee would be made up much like the election committee that voted in Leung Chun-ying last year - split equally among four sectors.
"There could neither be too few [candidates] to maintain fierce competition, nor too many, as voters would find it hard to make up their minds," he said.
Asked whether the committee would filter out candidates who did not meet Beijing's requirement that the chief executive "love the country and Hong Kong", Li said it was an "imaginative question".
"I believe both the committee and all Hongkongers would choose a chief executive that is trusted by the central government," he said.
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, convenor of the Alliance for True Democracy, said Li's comments would not stop its calls for public nomination.