Hong Kong's journey towards democracy has been painfully slow. Progress has certainly been made over the past two decades, but we are still a long way from achieving the ultimate aim of universal suffrage which is enshrined in the Basic Law. The proposals for change announced by the government yesterday will, if implemented, take our city a little closer to that goal - but only a little. They have the potential to rejuvenate grassroots politics by giving more power to the district councils. That is a positive development. But the plans also maintain many profoundly undemocratic features for the election of the chief executive in 2007 and the Legislative Council in 2008. And no indication has been given as to what will happen after that. The proposals are therefore not as significant or substantive as Chief Secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan suggests. We should not be too surprised. Beijing laid down the framework for the reforms last year. It ruled out universal suffrage for 2007 and 2008 and also imposed other limitations on the changes that can be made. Under the Basic Law, reforms can only be made if they are backed by at least two-thirds of the lawmakers and also by Beijing. The proposals were, therefore, always going to be a compromise intended to attract broad support. Indeed, Mr Hui said the government would be begging lawmakers for votes. The government's package seeks to achieve a consensus by giving greater prominence to district councillors. Under the plan, they would all become members of an expanded Election Committee to choose the next chief executive. They would also elect among themselves five new functional constituency members for Legco. Four hundred and twenty seven of the district councillors are elected by universal suffrage. The government no doubt hopes that this factor will be tempting enough to the pro-democracy camp to win its support for the package. But the democratic element of the proposal is watered down by other aspects of the plan. One hundred and two district councillors who are appointed by the chief executive will be included in the new arrangements. The result will be a system in which the government is able to stack the cards by picking a significant number of the voters. This may provide the central government and conservative forces in Hong Kong with some comfort. But it is not a way of making progress towards universal suffrage - quite the opposite. Divisions blurred The five new Legco functional constituencies will make it a little more democratic. Giving them all to the district councils blurs the dividing line between the directly elected constituencies and traditionally small-circle functional ones. It could be a step towards phasing out functional constituencies in the future. But a golden opportunity to overhaul the functional constituency system will be missed if the proposals are implemented. This newspaper has argued that the functional constituencies should be opened up to a much bigger part of the community. We believe everyone in paid employment should have a functional constituency vote. This is consistent with the principle of ensuring that different sectors of society are represented. It is disappointing to see that the government has effectively rejected this idea. More worrying is that the administration is prepared to allow voting by corporations and other bodies to continue in the functional constituencies. This system is unfair, outdated, and lacks transparency. Corporate voting should be abolished. Rushed process Just as important as the content of the proposals is the process by which they will be implemented - or amended. Mr Hui boldly declared that an opinion poll commissioned by the Central Policy Unit already showed that the proposals were supported by the public. This is unconvincing. It suggests the government is seeking to present people with a fait accompli. Mr Hui also wants to see the proposals endorsed by the Legislative Council in December. This would mean rushing the legislative process. It is not the way to go about making changes that are of the greatest importance to Hong Kong's future. Sufficient time should be made available for the proposals to be discussed by the community - and for the response to be fairly and accurately evaluated. There will also be a need for discussions with Beijing. We should not forget the reason why these reforms are being proposed. It was decided there was need to change the system after the crisis of governance that arose in 2003, bringing half a million people onto the streets in protest. Making the electoral system more representative is one way of improving the governance of Hong Kong - and it is provided for by the Basic Law. It is a means by which the declared aims of stability, prosperity and harmony can be better achieved. Whatever reforms are decided on will require central government support. It is likely to need some persuading if the proposals are to be amended. But that is all part of the process. The aim should be to put in place a system that is much more representative - and that means improving on the package announced yesterday. Mr Hui declared 'we are all democrats'. He was referring to the widespread support for the principle of universal suffrage. But when it comes to the pace at which that ultimate aim is to be achieved, it is clear that some are more democratic than others. A timetable for introducing universal suffrage would help. Hong Kong people have been waiting a long time for the journey to reach its conclusion. They deserve to at least be told how much longer it will take.