Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing says achieving universal suffrage is crucial to the city's future, but deeper thinking is also urgently needed to address long-term issues such as health care, the environment, the economy and education.
Tsang said the city needed a new breed of high-quality think tanks to bring the policy debate up to the standard required to tackle the challenges facing a major metropolis in a global economy.
The Legco chief has already commissioned a group of experts to analyse overseas think tanks, such as the Brookings Institution in the US, and figure out how to nurture similar bodies in Hong Kong. A report is due in the next few months.
"The attainment of universal suffrage alone cannot resolve other long-standing governance problems; we need to have quality think tanks to come up with studies on matters affecting the city's future," Tsang said.
The city has several policy think tanks, such as the One Country Two Systems Research Institute, of which Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was formerly chairman of the board of directors, and the Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre, set up in 2006 by Norman Chan Tak-lam, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen's campaign manager in the 2005 chief executive election. The Bauhinia centre's influence has waned since Leung was elected chief executive in 2012.
Tsang, founding chairman of what was the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, said the colonial government often commissioned overseas experts to conduct studies on vital policy issues and the city should consider doing so again.
"For issues like waste management and boosting land supply, the government should engage outside experts to come up with feasible proposals," he said, citing the landmark 1972 McKinsey Report, commissioned by the late governor Murray MacLehose, which radically altered the structure of government.
But Tsang said it was up to the people of Hong Kong to tackle the most important current policy debate - electoral reform.
Tsang said none of the proposals for the 2017 chief executive election put forward in recent months could bridge the divide between Beijing and the pan-democrats.
"It will take a candid talk between both sides, where each shares their anxiety, to build trust and narrow the divide," he said.
The Basic Law states that candidates should be put forward by "a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures". Pan-democrats want voters and political parties to also be granted nominating rights, arguing this does not necessarily violate the mini-constitution.
"Beijing is worried someone it cannot trust could run. It would be unrealistic to reject the eventual winner at the last minute," said Tsang, referring to the chaos a refusal of appointment could trigger in society.
"The pan-democrats fear Beijing can arbitrarily screen them out. Both reasons make sense."
With a vote on constitutional reform to be held by the end of the year, Tsang acknowledged it was too late to build genuine trust, but said there was still enough time to get both sides around the table for discussions.
Tsang said he hoped a banquet invitation from the central government's liaison office could provide a forum for discussion.
Pan-democrats have said they will not attend if it is held at the liaison office's headquarters in Western. Tsang said that the China Resources Building in Wan Chai and the Bank of China Building in Central were under consideration.
One Country Two Systems Research Institute
Set up in 1990
Major backers: Hang Lung Properties chairman Ronnie Chan Chichung, former City University president Chang Hsin-kang
Bauhinia Foundation Research Centre
Set up in 2006
Major backers: Sing Tao chairman Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, Chinese Estates Group vice-chairman Lau Ming-wai (eldest son of property tycoon Joseph Lau Luen-hung)
Hong Kong Policy Research Institute
Set up in 1995
Major backers: Paul Yip Kwok-wah (former special adviser to Tung Chee-hwa during his tenure as chief executive, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing