Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor yesterday welcomed recent compromise proposals for electoral reform under which the public would not get to nominate candidates for chief executive in 2017.
Lam, who leads the government's consultation on reform, did not elaborate. But others saw her remark as an implicit endorsement of a plan released this week by a group of academics that would allow the public to recommend candidates to a nominating committee. That idea was also hailed by the justice secretary as "relatively more concrete" than allowing the public or parties to choose candidates.
But Lam said she remained pessimistic on finding a plan that would pass the legislature.
"I am pessimistic. The job is very challenging," she said, a month before the consultation ends on May 3. "We will need two-thirds of legislators' support, that means 'yes' votes from 47 of the 70 lawmakers."
Addressing 120 people at a forum hosted by the engineering and construction sectors, Lam said it was important any proposal complied with the Basic Law, which she likened to the blueprint for a building.
"If we do not follow the blueprint but let the workers build anything according to their wild imagination, the building can never be completed," she said.
But she said she was pleased to see proposals put forward recently that had "aimed to meet the requirements" of the mini-constitution.
On Wednesday, a group of academics put forward a proposal which they said was "highly democratic" and also in line with the Basic Law's requirement that only the nominating committee be allowed to pick candidates.
It included a procedure under which a candidate with the support of more than two per cent of voters would automatically be considered by the committee.
Earlier yesterday, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung said the government would study the academics' proposal "from legal, political, and operational viewpoints".
He added that the government was "very much pleased" with the reform debate's recent direction, which had not been confined to nomination by the public or political parties, two demands from pan-democrats.
Beijing has promised universal suffrage for 2017, but must also approve the details of any reform plan.