An understanding between Beijing and pan-democrats that the method for electing the chief executive could be changed after universal suffrage is introduced in 2017 would create more room for compromise and avoid a "life-or-death" struggle, a leading mainland expert on Hong Kong affairs says.
Jiang Shigong called on moderate pan-democrats to take the initiative in accepting the legal framework laid down in the Basic Law as their basis for fighting for a more democratic electoral method, to pave the way for dialogue with Beijing.
"Perhaps state leaders in charge two decades from now will be more open-minded and enlightened," Jiang, deputy director of Peking University's Centre for Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said. "There is no need for Hong Kong to assume electoral methods can't be changed after 2017."
His views were echoed by some Beijing-friendly politicians, such as Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
In an interview with the South China Morning Post, Jiang said that if an understanding could be reached and some issues resolved in subsequent years, "we can avoid a life-or-death scenario for the debate on the 2017 chief executive election. It would take some heat out of the debate".
First, however, pan-democrats would have to agree with the Basic Law provision that the nominating committee is the only body able to name chief executive candidates.
Pan-democrats advocate a three-track system - allowing voters and political parties to make nominations along with the nominating committee.
The central government insists that candidates can only be put forward by a nominating committee similar to the election committee that chose previous chief executives.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor warned last month that the prospect of universal suffrage in 2017 would be no more than a "mirage" if huge differences persist and people are unwilling to come to terms with political reality by going back to the legal framework laid down by the Basic Law.
Jiang said both pan-democrats and the central government would be losers if universal suffrage could not be attained in 2017 - the year Beijing promised it would arrive. "But moderate pan-democrats would be the bigger losers, while radical pan-democrats and the pro-establishment camp would benefit," he said. "The moderate pan-democrats should take the lead to accept the legal framework laid down in the Basic Law as their basis for fighting for a more democratic electoral method."
Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan, who spearheaded his party's negotiation with Beijing on political reform in 2010, said he found Jiang's proposal unacceptable. "Our bottom line is that the chief executive election in 2017 must be a contested race in which pan-democratic candidates would be allowed to stand in the election," Ho said. "We can't accept fake universal suffrage in 2017.
"If we have fake universal suffrage in 2017, how can we have confidence that it would be genuine in 2022?" But Ho added his party was willing to discuss practical issues like the make-up of the nominating committee at "an appropriate time".