The door was open to change the composition of the committee that will decide who runs in the 2017 chief executive election despite the views of a top Beijing official, justice chief Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said yesterday.
Yuen, who serves on the taskforce leading a five-month consultation on electoral reform, made the comment when asked whether the new nominating committee would have to be split between the same four sectors that made up the election committee in previous polls.
Yuen was asked about remarks by Qiao Xiaoyang , deputy secretary of the National People's Congress' Standing Committee, who said in 2007 that the nominating committee would be formed "with reference to" the make-up of the election committee. The election committee has long been criticised as a "small circle" dominated by the city's elite.
Qiao's remarks, which used a mainland legal term, were referenced in a footnote in the government consultation paper published on Wednesday.
"Qiao's remarks were his interpretation of the Basic Law under the Chinese legal system," Yuen said in a Commercial Radio interview, though he admitted Qiao's use of legal terminology made it "binding to some extent".
Yuen and his fellow members of the taskforce, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen, made a series of radio appearances to promote the consultation yesterday. On RTHK, Lam urged people not to be discouraged about giving their views on comments by mainland officials that were included in the consultation paper.
Dismissing suggestions that the consultation document had put too much focus on the likes of Li Fei, chairman of Beijing's Basic Law Committee, Lam said: "We have left much room for discussion in many areas."
And Lam said that requiring the chief executive to be a patriot did not mean that the person elected had to love the Communist Party.
Meanwhile, the government came under fire from an academic for not addressing in the consultation paper whether there would be a process to "screen" out candidates unacceptable to Beijing.
"Hongkongers expect to pick their next leader by one man, one vote - they hope there will be candidates with different political orientations, and that there will be no 'screening'," Professor Johannes Chan Man-mun, dean of law at the University of Hong Kong, said. "Officials completely and deliberately avoided" that issue.