Liberal Party leader James Tien Pei-chun hopes to serve as a "mediator" between Beijing loyalists and pan-democrats by tabling a "compromise" proposal for electoral reform that he believes both parties will dislike equally.
Tien believes the crux of the debate over methods for the election of chief executive in 2017 is the question of whether pan-democrats will be allowed to run. He believes his proposal offers a glimmer of hope for pan-democrats while reassuring Beijing by making it tough for government critics to make it through to the election.
By pleasing no one, Tien believes he can sow the seeds of a middle-ground plan that wins enough pan-democratic support to get the required two-thirds majority in the Legislative Council and approval from Beijing.
Under Tien's proposal, which he put forward on Sunday, a 1,600-member nominating committee would choose between up to eight candidates in a primary election. Each committee member would be allowed up to three votes, with the top three candidates going forward to the public ballot when Hongkongers elect their leader for the first time.
"I want to be a mediator," Tien said. "My proposal could be rejected by pan-democrats because it does not ensure they can [run]. But Beijing could reject it too because it does not ban pan-democrats from running. I hope it can help them to [negotiate]."
He gave the example of a hypothetical election involving three widely tipped candidates: Civic Party chairwoman Audrey Eu Yuet-mee, New People's Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee and Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor.
"If Eu was endorsed by 150 pan-democratic members, Ip won another 400 endorsements and Lam got 1,000, all three would be allowed to run."
Tien rejected moderate pan-democrat Ronny Tong Ka-wah's suggestion that candidates be allowed to run with support from 10 per cent of nominating committee members. He also dismissed the idea that candidates should have to win over more than half of the nominating committee to run.
Earlier this month, a source told the Post that the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong was likely to propose a system under which 50 per cent of committee members would have to endorse a candidate for them to stand. Tien said such a system might mean Lam, seen as a front runner despite ruling herself out of the poll, might be the only candidate put forward for the election.
However, Tien's plan could allow Beijing loyalists, who would likely dominate the committee's membership, to split votes between three candidates to keep pan-democrats out. Such a possibility may give comfort to Beijing by ensuring the city did not end up with a critic as its leader.
Tien claimed there was strong public support for an elected chief executive even if no pan-democrat was able to run.
Citing a survey of 3,500 Hongkongers carried out by his party, Tien said 44 per cent preferred to have a public vote even if no pan-democrat was involved, while 21 per cent would rather keep the status quo, with the chief executive selected by a 1,200-strong committee, in that event.
And he believes that if pan-democrats vote down a reform proposal in Legco, they will pay the price at the ballot box.
"If [pan-democrats] don't compromise at all, they will lose points [of support] and it will be reflected in the [Legco or district council] elections," Tien said.
The government consultation on reform closes on May 3.