The voter base of the Election Committee should be expanded to 1 million for the 2007 chief executive election to boost the government's legitimacy, a leading sociologist said yesterday. Chan Kin-man, an associate professor of sociology at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said although the pro-democracy camp still advocated universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, 'deep in their heart they're fighting for 2012'. If that was not possible, 2017 would be their target, he said. Professor Chan's comments came as one of this year's recipients of the city's Grand Bauhinia Medal, founder of the Chen Hsong Group, Chiang Chen, said he believed 2012 was a suitable time to introduce universal suffrage, as 2007 and 2008 were 'too quick'. Asked by RTHK whether 2012 was a suitable time, Mr Chiang said: 'It should be possible ... at least it can give the public a hope.' Speaking at a forum on the chief executive's platform yesterday, Professor Chan said the democrats had to face up to the 'political reality' that Beijing had ruled out universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008, and that the public's interest in taking to the streets to fight for political reform had faded. This was reflected by the fall in the number of people who protested on July 1. In stark contrast to the past two years, when about half a million people took to the streets, Friday's march drew only 21,000 people, according to the organisers. 'If we are to have universal suffrage in 2017, there will be about 3 million people who can vote [for the Election Committee] after the voter base has been expanded to 1 million in each election,' Professor Chan told the forum. At present, about 163,500 eligible voters choose the 800-member Election Committee. 'The public felt there's little chance universal suffrage could be achieved in the short term, and now a new leader acceptable to them has taken the helm ... they don't think there's a need to [join the rally],' Professor Chan said. James Tang Tuck-hong, dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Social Sciences, noted that despite the lower turnout, a significant number of people still came out on the streets compared with the average protest march in Hong Kong. He called on the government to respond to their demands and devise a concrete timetable, otherwise tension might lead to other problems. Forum speaker Mathias Woo Yan-wai, creative director of Zuni Icosahedron, called for the corporatisation of RTHK. He said the fact that the public broadcaster was run by the civil service posed too many restrictions on its operations. Meanwhile, Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference Standing Committee member Chan Wing-kee said he believed all 60 legislators would be invited to Beijing to meet state leaders if the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, of which a few lawmakers are members, was disbanded.