The public can get a role in nominating candidates for chief executive in 2017 without breaching the Basic Law stipulation that only a "nominating committee" is allowed to put forward hopefuls, a local expert on the mini-constitution says.
Alan Hoo, a barrister and chairman of the Basic Law Institute, proposes a dual-track system under which members of the public could put forward candidates for an internal election in the nominating committee.
The 2017 poll is due to be the first run under universal suffrage, but the nomination process has become a key bone of contention - pan-democrats fear it will be used to "screen out" candidates critical of Beijing.
"There is room in the Basic Law that allows dual-track candidate recommendation, involving public participation," Hoo said in Beijing, where he is attending meetings of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference as a deputy.
Hoo says he has been lobbying for support in the capital and that his idea has received a "positive response" from Basic Law Committee chairman Li Fei; Qiao Xiaoyang, chairman of the Law Committee of the National People's Congress; and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
He proposes that hopefuls who secured endorsements from one-eighth of the nominating committee or 70,000 signatures from the public would become "official nominees". The committee would elect a certain number to run in the election as "official candidates".
"We are not talking about street-style petitions, but legally binding signatures from 70,000 or 80,000 members of the public. This wouldn't be easy," Hoo said.
Nominating committee members, he proposes, would cast a number of votes equal to the set number of candidates for the final poll; no more, no less.
The nominating committee would be modelled on the election committee that chose previous chief executives, long derided by pan-democrats as a "small circle" dominated by Beijing loyalists. But in picking a limited number of candidates, the committee would merely be fulfilling its "legal obligations", Hoo said.
He compared his idea to meal selection, saying: "It is like the committee has to choose three dishes and one soup … it cannot pick only one dish and one soup."
He suggested making the committee more democratic by adding elected district councillors, taking the 1,200-strong body to about 1,500 members.
Pan-democratic lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah suggested that idea in October, but it was rejected by Beijing loyalists.
Hoo said it could be the way to go. "The government has been wanting to develop the regional representative system. District councillors are not merely municipal-based."