Storm clouds are already gathering, with pan-democrats and pro-government lawmakers split over whether the legal and constitutional principles emphasised in the administration's consultation document on electoral reform will bar dissenting voices from running for chief executive.
Pan-democrats called on the public not to feel limited by the parameters of the consultation paper and continue to fight for the right of ordinary voters to nominate candidates for the 2017 election - even after local and Beijing officials said the idea was not in line with the Basic Law.
"We have to make the best use of these coming five months," said Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit, referring to the period for which the consultation on electoral reform will run. "Let us ignore what [Basic Law Committee chairman] Li Fei said last month, as well as the framework set obscurely by [Chief Secretary] Carrie Lam [Cheng Yuet-ngor]."
Democratic Party chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said Hongkongers should voice their opinions "without self-censorship … and without worrying about what Beijing or Hong Kong officials said. People should speak their minds.
"Let the Hong Kong government, the central government and the international community know what Hong Kong people want," she said.
Questioned by lawmakers yesterday, Lam said it was "self-evident" that the chief executive must be a patriot.
The idea that the chief executive must "love the country and Hong Kong" has long been touted by central and local officials. But it alarms pan-democrats, who fear it will be used to rule dissenters out of the race.
Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan said Lam's comments suggested the question of "patriotism" would be an obstacle on the path to democracy.
"Is this a consultation about universal suffrage or about 'screening'?" Lee asked. "Are we facing a straight road to universal suffrage, or is this a hurdles race?"
But New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Shuk-yee said pan-democrats should not be surprised to see the government reiterate principles set down in the Basic Law.
"I think people should also understand that for progress to be made, it has to be based on the Basic Law," said Ip, also an Executive Council member. "I believe that if we negotiate [based on legal foundations], consensus can still be reached."
Ip said her party would hold internal meetings to develop reform proposals.
Fellow Exco member Starry Lee Wai-king said the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, of which she is vice-chairwoman, would invite officials to explain the consultation paper, and would submit its own proposal.
THE KEY QUESTIONS
The 2017 chief executive election
- Should the nominating committee be based on the same framework used to select the election committee which chose the chief executive last year? Should it continue to be made up of representatives of four sectors: business; professionals; the welfare, labour and religious sector; and politicians? Should it be the same size as the 1,200-strong election committee, or grow bigger? If the committee is expanded, how should new seats be distributed?
- Who should be able to vote for members of the nominating committee? Should the voter base be increased?
- Should the 38 subsectors continue to select representatives on the nominating committee in the same way? If new subsectors are added, how should they choose their representatives?
- What procedures should the nominating committee follow to put forward candidates for the election? How many candidates should be put forward?
- What voting arrangements should be adopted for the election? Should one or multiple rounds of voting be held? Should the winning candidate have to secure more than half of the total number of valid votes? Should an alternative electoral system - such as the instant run-off system, in which voters ranks candidates in order of preference - be adopted?
- Given that the central government has the right to appoint - or not appoint - the winner of the election as chief executive, how should local legislation reflect this? Should the law be amended to allow for a re-run of the election should Beijing exercise its right not to appoint the winner?
- Is there any need to continue the requirement that the winner of the election for chief executive declare that he or she is not a member of any political party?
The 2016 Legislative Council election
- Should the number of seats remain at the present 70? If new seats are introduced, should they continue to be split equally between geographical and functional constituencies?
- Should the electorates for the functional constituencies be changed?
- Should the number of geographical constituencies remain at five? Should the number of seats in each geographical constituency change?
Years of indecision
2004: The Hong Kong government launches public consultation on methods for elections for the chief executive in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008. The National People's Congress Standing Committee exercises its right to interpret the Basic Law and sets out a five-step procedure for changing the city's electoral methods
2005: The government's reform proposals for the 2007 and 2008 elections fail to receive the required two-thirds majority in Legco
July 2007: The government releases a green paper on constitutional development to canvass the public's views on a "road map" and timetable for universal suffrage, and launches a three-month consultation
December 2007: The NPC Standing Committee decides the chief executive may be elected by universal suffrage in 2017, with a one-person, one-vote system for Legco to follow
November 2009: The Hong Kong government releases consultation paper on methods for electing the chief executive and Legco in 2012
June 2010: Legco passes the motions to amend the electoral methods for both 2012 polls with a two-thirds majority
Yesterday: The government releases a consultation paper for public discussion on the 2016 Legco election and 2017 election for chief executive