Pro-democracy campaigners in Hong Kong proposed on Wednesday a system in which the people of Hong Kong and their elected political parties could nominate candidates for 2017 elections for the city's top leadership job — an approach likely to be highly unpopular with Beijing.
The Alliance for True Democracy, an umbrella group comprising academics and 26 pro-democracy legislators and their parties, laid out details of a proposed three-tier nomination system, which has been among the most sensitive areas of debate surrounding the election process.
Under the system, a candidate can be nominated by either the endorsements of at least one percent of registered voters, by political parties who have won at least five percent of votes in the previous legislative election or directly by members of the Nominating Committee, which is heavily influenced by Beijing.
The move came just one week after thousands of people took to the streets to call for universal suffrage in the 2017 race for chief executive.
Currently, Hong Kong’s chief executive, who replaced the British-appointed colonial governor after the 1997 handover of sovereignty, is elected by a committee of 1,200, rather than by a direct vote.
"What we propose is a single, integrated proposal and we reaffirm that we are ready to discuss any proposal concerning the electoral system which is genuinely democratic, offering meaningful choices for Hong Kong people, without any political censorship mechanism," Joseph Cheng, a political scientist of the City University of Hong Kong, told a news conference.
"We want to seek areas of compromise and minimize our differences," Cheng said. "This is a constructive compromise in the direction [of Beijing]."
"We are looking for a consensus across the whole of society," he said.
The ruling Chinese Communist Party has previously said that only the Nominating Committee can nominate candidates, and their supporters generally oppose any form of public nomination.
Cheng hit out at comments made by Chinese officials suggesting that candidates should "love China and love Hong Kong," and not take a confrontational attitude to China, saying they have no basis in the territory's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
The Basic Law allows for full universal suffrage to take place in 2017 and 2020, and this clause was confirmed in an interpretation by China's parliament, which has ultimate power in the matter, in 2007.
Cheng said any candidate nominated through public channels could be endorsed by the Nominating Committee, as a form of compromise with the pro-Beijing camp.
The arrangement would be regarded "as a recognition process, a formality to demonstrate our respect for the power and authority of the nomination committee," Cheng said.
Recent public polls have shown the majority of Hong Kong people are in favor of more democracy, but the territory's pro-democracy politicians have remained divided on the practicalities of such an election.
Many analysts expect Beijing to back away from universal suffrage for 2017, and for legislative elections in 2020.
Democracy campaigners say they may take to the streets with an "Occupy" movement of the Central business district in a bid to force the government to endorse genuine democracy.
Democratic lawmaker and trade unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said the Alliance's proposals had been drawn up after widespread discussion with members and with the public.
"We hope the political parties and citizens will do their utmost to get the word out in the next few days, so that this proposal is the one that wins the mainstream backing of [Hong Kong people]," Lee said.
"If we give citizens and political parties the right to nominate candidates, we don't really care how the Nominating Committee operates," he said.
"As long as candidates with public support can enter the race, that will be enough," Lee said.
Under the terms of its 1997 handover to China, Hong Kong was guaranteed the continuation of existing freedoms of expression and association for 50 years.
But journalists and political analysts say that the Communist Party has redoubled its ideological work efforts in the territory following mass demonstrations on July 1, 2003 against proposed anti-subversion legislation, which the government later abandoned.
They cite a growing number of occasions where comments from Beijing officials have dictated policy changes in Hong Kong, belying the "one country, two systems" agreement that underpinned the handover agreement.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.