Former Hong Kong second-in-command Anson Chan, who heads a pressure group campaigning for universal suffrage in the former British colony, has warned that failure to allow any pro-democratic candidates to run for 2017 elections for the post of chief executive will harm democracy in the territory.
Amid growing signs that Beijing is unlikely to move forward with full, direct elections for the city's legislature and chief executive anytime soon, former chief secretary Chan said the 2017 elections shouldn't be allowed to eliminate different political views.
"At the very least, there should be one candidate allowed to stand from the pan-democratic camp," she told a news conference held by her group, Hong Kong 2020, this week.
"If there is no opportunity for a pan-democratic candidate, then that would be a step backwards for democracy [in Hong Kong]," Chan told reporters.
Pro-democracy politicians currently hold 27 of 70 seats on Hong Kong's Legislative Council.
No upper limit
She said there was no upper limit set by Hong Kong's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, on the number of candidates who could stand for chief executive.
"The final number of candidates should be fixed through a highly transparent process," she said. "Public nomination could be in line with the Basic Law, and it's certainly a method that should be considered."
"Of course, it's not the only method, and the nomination committee could set up a nomination process of its own, clearly explained, that could accept public nominations. All of this can be considered," Chan told reporters.
In response to comments by Li Fei, who is the highest-ranking Chinese official in charge of interpreting the Basic Law, who called on a recent visit to Hong Kong for would-be candidates to pass the test of "loving China and loving Hong Kong," Chan said there was "nothing particularly new about it."
"I don't think people should try to over-interpret Li Fei's comments, to the extent of determining whether they set a framework or whether they don't," she said.
Call to speak out
Chan, who still commands huge popular support among Hong Kong people, called on the city's residents to speak their minds.
"The nominations committee must take into account public opinion in Hong Kong," she said.
"We should now encourage the general public to express their opinions, so that all sorts of methods can be discussed," Chan said.
"The most important principle when it comes to governing Hong Kong is a firm basis in the rule of law, not in the rule by individuals," she said.
But in a side-swipe at incumbent C.Y. Leung, who was narrowly elected by a committee hand-picked by Beijing, she added: "I hope that [chief executive] Leung Chun-ying will pay attention to the fact that his popularity seems to be on a downward trend."
Chan, whose time in office ended with the 1997 handover of Hong Kong to Beijing, has previously said that many veteran Hong Kong politicians, including those formerly regarded as pro-Beijing, are extremely concerned about the future of Hong Kong's partial democracy and rule of law under Chinese rule.
Reported by Lin Jing for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.