Government turns screws in budget vote fight

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 April, 2009, 12:00am

Lawmakers are facing renewed pressure from the government to declare their support for the budget - and to attend Wednesday's vote on whether to approve it.

The pressure has become so intense that one lawmaker is considering cancelling a trip overseas to see his son graduate from university.

The government needs a simple majority of votes - 30 - to avoid the humiliation of seeing its budget voted down for the first time, but is sure of the votes of only 26 lawmakers.

Many in the Legislative Council have criticised the lack of measures in the budget to stimulate the economy to counter the global downturn.

Federation of Trade Unions (FTU) lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin revealed he had been subject to such intense lobbying he was considering cancelling a trip tonight to Australia for his son's graduation.

The FTU holds four votes in Legco and has yet to decide whether to support the government. It believes the budget does not do enough to help the working class.

Mr Wong said he had still not decided how to vote or whether to stay in Hong Kong. 'Whether I accept will depend on the strength of the lobbying, and their sincerity,' he said.

The Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and several independents from functional constituencies, say they will vote for the budget.

Of the 23 pan-democrats, one is set to abstain and the rest have indicated they will oppose it unless the government makes a verbal pledge to adopt some of their proposals to create jobs and help those struggling to find work. The Liberal Party, with three votes, has also been critical of the lack of measures in the budget to spur consumer spending, and will decide how to vote tomorrow.

Travel sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said he had also received a 'communication' but was keeping the government guessing. 'I want to hear what the financial secretary has to say before I decide,' he said.

Medical sector lawmaker Leung Ka-lau said he had also been lobbied, but would not say which way he would vote.

Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah would not be drawn on the budget vote when attending a DAB function yesterday.

If the budget is voted down, the government will have HK$61 billion to spend on account until it secures passage of a revised budget.

City University political analyst James Sung Lap-kung said the fact that even independent lawmakers could bargain hard for their goals was indicative of a 'weakening government'. But he doubts pro-establishment lawmakers wish to trigger a crisis by voting down the budget.