Law Society president Ambrose Lam San-keung yesterday refused to comment on public recommendation - a process by which the public could put forward non-binding recommendations for 2017 chief executive candidates. He also described the question of a cap on the number of candidates as "a political wrestling match which I do not want to weigh into", adding: "I do not want to make a comment on the number."
This is despite a poll by the society that found a majority of members did not want a limit on the number of candidates.
Lam made his comments while elaborating on the reform submission made by the city's largest lawyers' group to the government last week.
The Law Society and the Bar Association have both said nomination of candidates by voters or political parties - so-called public nomination - would not comply with the Basic Law.
But the Bar Association said public recommendation was possible as long as the official nominating committee had the final say.
It also said in its reform submission that capping the number of candidates would "infringe the authority and liberty" of the nominating committee.
In the Law Society's poll last month, 63.7 per cent of more than 690 respondents said there should not be any cap on the number of candidates. In comparison 18.8 per cent said a cap of "three to four" should be applied, while 17.5 per cent had no opinion on the matter.
Yesterday, Lam admitted the notion of "love the country, love Hong Kong" - cited by Beijing as a criterion for chief executive - was "literally absent" from the constitutional text and there was no clear mechanism to judge patriotism. "It is arguable whether patriotism constitutes a reasonable restriction on candidacy," Lam said. "But it is difficult to judge who complies with the notion. What is the mechanism to determine if an individual loves the country and Hong Kong?"
While the Bar Association said it might be unconstitutional to form the future nominating committee based on the current four-sector line-up of the 1,193-member Election Committee, the Law Society has said: "The nominating committee may be formed with reference to the existing Election Committee, but there should not be any mandatory obligation to strictly adopt the same provisions."
Meanwhile, Beijing-friendly group New Forum, which is led by lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok, suggests forming a 1,500-member nominating committee to include 300 members from a random ballot to allow greater public participation.
Writing in state organ the Global Times, former political assistant for development Henry Ho Kin-chung - now a visiting scholar at Tsinghua University - questioned whether the issues of public nomination and "genuine or fake universal suffrage" were deliberately being pushed as part of the debate to "tear the relationship between Hong Kong and the central government".
The government consultation ended on Saturday.