Election restrictions Beijing set for Hong Kong’s 2017 chief executive race could be changed in the future depending on circumstances, the central government’s Hong Kong and Macau affairs chief Wang Guangya said on Tuesday, contradicting his colleague’s remark last month that the restrictions are here to stay forever.

Speaking to pro-Beijing newspapers Wen Wei Po and Ta Kung Pao a day before the government’s political reform package is submitted to the legislature for debate, Wang ruled out any last minute change to the reform plan or the framework set by the National People’s Congress (NPC) last year known as the “August 31 decisions.”

Wang slammed the notion that election restrictions will stay forever as “misleading.” The “August 31 decisions” will remain effective until they’re amended in accordance with legal procedures, Wang said.

Li Fei, vice secretary-general of the NPC Standing Committee, said in May that the “August 31 decisions”, which set stringent nomination requirements that effectively screen out any candidate who are not loyal to Beijing, not only apply to the 2017 election but future elections as well. Li was speaking to Hong Kong legislative councillors including pan-democrats in a meeting in Shenzhen.

Following Li’s comment, public opinion polls showed more people were against passing the reform bill while previous polls reflected otherwise.

The Hong Kong Government has been using “future optimisation” as the selling point for its reform package, telling people to “pocket it first” and optimise electoral methods in the future.

The Legislative Council is set to debate the electoral reform bill on Wednesday. The Government needs to garner the endorsement of two thirds of the legislature for the bill to pass, which is widely seen as unlikely because pan-democrat lawmakers have vowed to block it. A rolling protest against the reform bill was kicked off on Sunday and is expected to last throughout the week.

Vivienne Zeng

Vivienne Zeng is a journalist from China with three years' experience covering Hong Kong and mainland affairs. She has an MA in journalism from the University of Hong Kong. Her work has been featured on outlets such as Al Jazeera+ and MSNBC.