Ministers are not free to endorse the pan-democrats' public nomination plan just because the people want it, as Hong Kong is not an independent nation, the chief secretary said in response to students' questions at a political reform forum yesterday.
"The central government has decisive authority [over] the city's political reform," Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said. "We are not an independent nation, in which we can implement whatever the people like."
But Lam, who leads a task force on electoral reform, revealed many were of the opinion that the nominating committee - which will put forth candidates for the 2017 chief executive poll - should comprise 1,600 to 2,400 members, possibly with a smaller agricultural and fisheries sector.
The administration's No 2 declined to say if allowing the public to nominate candidates was against the Basic Law.
But in an outreach effort at Victoria Park yesterday, constitutional affairs minister Raymond Tam Chi-yuen said the government would release an interim report of mainstream views collected on reform by March. The report would analyse "public opinion on specific proposals".
Tam was greeted by pro-democracy protests during his visit to the park's Lunar New Year fair. One 58-year-old woman was arrested for common assault after she threw at least one object at Tam. She was later released on bail.
In 2007, the National People's Congress Standing Committee decided that when Hong Kong picked its leader by universal suffrage in 2017, the nominating committee would be modelled on the 1,193-strong body that chose the chief executive in 2012.
But the committee has been criticised as unfair, not least because a tiny sector like agriculture and fisheries elects 60 representatives. Barring the directly-elected lawmakers, who are ex-officio members, just 250,000 voters choose committee members.
Yesterday, in the Student Development Committee-hosted forum, nine students asked Lam how the nominating committee would be formed. One called for all Hongkongers to be allowed to join the committee.
"A broadly representative [nominating committee] doesn't mean including all 3 million [voters] as its members. Rather, it is based on sectors - and only that can ensure a balanced participation among all sectors in society," Lam said. "So far, the opinions we've heard included [people] calling for the committee to be expanded to 1,600 or 2,400. Also, we will [see if] there is room to change [the agriculture and fisheries sector's number of seats]. There's some difficulty … but people have said that with a bigger committee, there'll be more room for change."