Pan-democrats failed to initiate impeachment proceedings against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying when an unprecedented motion was defeated in the Legislative Council last night.
After an eight-hour debate, a majority of the directly elected lawmakers present voted for the motion, which accused Leung of dereliction of duty for his handling of unauthorised structures at his home.
But as expected it failed to win support among trade-based lawmakers. It required majority support in both groups. The directly elected legislators voted 18 to 14 in favour, while in the functional constituencies, 23 voted against and nine in favour.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had urged lawmakers to end "internal strife". She said: "There are voices in our society that say the precious time of the legislature should not be wasted on discussing this issue but concentrate on policies and livelihood issues instead."
The vote came as Leung finalised his maiden policy address set for January 16. His speech is seen as the key to salvaging his flagging popularity and is expected to focus on livelihood issues and economic development.
But a source said he was unlikely to roll out detailed relief measures in his policy blueprint. "He will let the financial secretary announce the details of relief measures in the budget next month," the source said. "The government also needs to assess public feedback to the policy address before making a final decision on relief measures."
Leung, who did not attend the debate, declined to comment after attending a public function.
The motion was tabled by League of Social Democrats' lawmaker "Long Hair" Leung Kwok-hung, representing the 27 pan-democrats.
They believe that Leung gave a false statement before Legco in July when he said he "has never concealed any possible contraventions [of the law]". Four months later he admitted sealing off an unauthorised basement with a brick wall in 2011.
The Democratic Party's Albert Ho Chun-yan described the first ever motion to initiate impeachment proceedings in Legco as a historic event. However, he was disappointed with the pro-government lawmakers' refusal to support the pan-democrats.
Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the pro-government Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said: "The pan-democrats were using the highest power of the legislature merely as a tool for their own political purposes."
If the vote had been passed, an independent body would have been set up and an impeachment motion moved if it had found sufficient evidence. This would require the support of two-thirds of lawmakers, with the result reported to the central government for a decision.