Hong Kong's government has unveiled election reform proposals that would allow residents to vote for the southern Chinese city's top leader for the first time.

But the proposals include Beijing-backed restrictions facing stiff resistance from the city's pro-democracy lawmakers.

They could spark renewed protests by student leaders and other activists who led mass street occupations that lasted nearly three months last year.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam outlined the reform package's details on Wednesday to lawmakers. She said that under the government's proposals, the city's 5 million eligible voters could choose from up to three candidates in 2017.

But she said the power to select candidates would remain in the hands of a 1,200-member panel of Beijing-friendly tycoons and other elites.