The question of whether the 2017 election for chief executive should involve multiple rounds of public voting to ensure the winner has broad support will be among the queries raised when a consultation on electoral reform starts tomorrow.
A government source said Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who heads a three-member taskforce on electoral reform, would speak at the weekly Legislative Council session to kick off a five-month consultation earlier than expected.
The source also said the government would cite a summary of public views received in a consultation six years ago, as it raised the question of how many candidates should be allowed to go forward to the first chief executive election held under a one-person, one-vote system. Pan-democrats are opposed to a limit on the number of candidates.
"The consultation paper will cite the government's summary of the public views in [a 2007 green paper] that the mainstream public opinion favoured two to four chief executive candidates at most," the source said.
Other key questions include the make-up of the nominating committee that will put forward candidates and how it shortlists candidates through "democratic procedures" in accordance with the Basic Law, the source said.
The idea of multiple rounds of voting has been put forward by many pan-democrats, although some Beijing-loyalists say it is not needed. Under the system - variations of which are used in France and some US states - candidates scoring poorly are eliminated and voting continues until one candidate has a majority. One option is that the two leading candidates from the first round would face a run-off poll.
The Alliance for True Democracy - which comprises 26 of the 27 pan-democratic lawmakers - has advocated the latter option alongside its demand that the public be allowed to nominate candidates.
Professor Joseph Cheng Yu-shek, the alliance's convenor, said it was "positive" that the government would consult on the possibility of multiple rounds of voting in the general election.
"We believe that there should be no cap on the number of candidates, that's why we [endorsed] a two-round model," Cheng said. "We also believe that the nominating process can be as open as possible … and I hope sincerely that the government will listen to public opinion."
Beijing's top Basic Law official, Li Fei , said during a visit to Hong Kong last month that such a limit was "not unreasonable". In a meeting with local officials, Li said a limit "could ensure that while the chief executive election is truly competitive, the problems of having too many contenders - such as a complicated election process and high costs - can be avoided".
But Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah disagreed with Li.
"These are not reasons [to set a limit] because our citizens are educated enough to [vote in an election with multiple candidates]," Tong said yesterday.
Tong proposes a 1,500-strong nominating committee that could, in theory, put forward as many as 10 candidates.
Voters would rank candidates by preference, with low-ranking candidates eliminated and votes transferred until one candidate had more than 50 per cent of the total.
Tong believes the issue of how the nominating committee puts forward contenders would be at the crux of whether universal suffrage, or "true" democracy, could be achieved in 2017.