An outspoken property agency boss and moderate pan-democrats are joining forces to test the public's views on a "middle way" for the first democratic election for chief executive in 2017.
While details of their plan remain sketchy, the group is launching amid criticism of Occupy Central's "referendum" next month, in which voters will choose between three models for the 2017 poll, all featuring public nomination.
The new study will test the question of whether allowing the public to put forward candidates - which many pan-democrats insist on but which Beijing rejects as inconsistent with the Basic Law - should be considered a must for a free and fair poll.
The survey will be organised by academics, former lawmakers and Centaline property agency boss Shih Wing-ching.
"The options currently available for the public are often extreme. Maybe Hongkongers would want to pick the middle way," said Shih, owner of free newspaper AM730, who stressed he "was not the one who put forward the initiative".
His role will include offering financial support for polling, though, he added: "Every one of us will contribute financially."
The new group's mission reflects a divide in the pan-democratic camp. Many consider public nomination crucial and fear the nominating committee specified in the Basic Law will "filter" out Beijing's critics.
But moderates fear such an approach risks scuppering hopes for reform. Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang and Civic Party lawmaker Ronny Tong Ka-wah have put forward proposals offering a more democratic nominating committee and a low nominating threshold in the hope of reaching a deal.
But the new group will do more than just pick between different reform models submitted to a recent government consultation, according to one member, Dr Cheung Kwok-wah.
"There are over 30 proposals out there and it is just impossible for us to list them all and ask people to choose," said Cheung, dean of education and language at the Open University.
He said most polls "collect opinions on a proposal … but do not master what citizens think".
"We are not promoting a particular proposal. If this was our goal, we could have just signed up for one of the proposals," Cheung said. He declined to give further details as it was too early.
Others thought to be joining the group include former Democrat lawmakers Fred Li Wah-ming and Tik Chi-yuen.
Dr Chung Kim-wah, a Polytechnic University social scientist, said measuring support for moderate proposals and views on public nomination was viable.
"In principle a poll can measure anything as long as there is control … to prevent biased or loaded questions," Chung said.
Topics: Basic Law More on this: