Beaten chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen has warned Hongkongers to expect a "tightly regulated" election in 2017 as he put forward electoral reform proposals he said were more "conservative" than he truly wanted.
And the former chief secretary, beaten by Leung Chun-ying in 2012 amid a scandal over an illegal "underground palace" at his home, said he would not run when the public chooses the city's leader for the first time.
Tang's proposal includes a cap on the number of candidates and a system under which members of the nominating committee will have multiple votes and choose candidates as a collective. He called for debate on whether a candidate with support from as little as one-eighth of the committee members should be able to stand, as in previous elections when the winner was elected by the 1,200-strong body.
"[Beijing officials] have said … the nominating committee shall put forward candidates as an institution, and it means the candidates have to be representative," said Tang, a member of the standing committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. "Is it representative enough, if you only have 100 to 200 nominations?"
His comments are likely to stoke concerns among pan-democrats that the nominating committee will "screen" critics of Beijing out of the election.
The government consultation on reform ends next month, and the National People's Congress Standing Committee is expected to give its blessing to the reform process in August.
But Tang warned Hongkongers not to expect too much. "Because this is the first time we're having universal suffrage, meaning 'one man, one vote', [nomination] arrangements will be fairly tightly regulated," Tang said.
"Of course I'd like to see a more open [process], but on the other hand, I believe I am realistic because I have a lot of experience in electoral arrangements," he added, referring to his success in 2010 in steering through reform after a deal with Democratic Party lawmakers secured a two-thirds majority in the legislature.
Asked why pan-democrats, who favour letting the public pick candidates, should support his idea, Tang said: "My proposal is a fairly conservative one … but political parties must consider whether, on a train to democracy, one should get on board first."
Tang also discussed Leung's administration, and did little to ease concern about a split between his supporters and backers of the chief executive.
He urged Leung to "work harder on uniting society" and said Hongkongers felt "disturbed" about press freedom, apparently a reference to the brutal attack on former Ming Pao editor Kevin Lau Chun-to.
"In Western democracies, the winners usually strive for, as a first priority, to unify society … I hope Leung can continue to work hard, because he hasn't been doing enough on this.
"There is much uneasiness … about the handling of several policy issues," he added, citing the refusal to grant a free-to-air television licence to Hong Kong Television Network - against the advice of the communications watchdog. But on housing, Tang said: "Many of [Leung's] policies are actually good."
Tang, 62, said he felt he would be too old to run in 2017 and favoured a younger candidate. He would encourage "anyone willing, capable and virtuous" to run. Asked whether the incumbent met the criteria, he added: "It isn't for me to decide."