Hong Kong reform package rejected as pro-Beijing camp walk out in 'miscommunication'
Pro-Beijing lawmakers left chamber to wait for colleague - leaving just eight of them to vote yes
Hong Kong's legislature yesterday blocked the government's electoral reform plan as a historic showdown between pan-democrats and Beijing loyalists became a farce when the latter camp's bungled walkout meant that only eight lawmakers voted for the plan.
There was utter confusion among the government's allies when 31 of them left the chamber in the mistaken belief the ballot would be adjourned while they waited for rural kingpin Lau Wong-fat, who was stuck in traffic on his way to cast his vote.
The resulting fiasco ended two years of debate and months of bickering on how Hong Kong could elect its chief executive by "one man, one vote" in 2017.
All 27 pan-democratic lawmakers kept their vow to vote no, and pro-establishment medical sector representative Dr Leung Ka-lau added a 28th vote. That would have been enough to deny the proposal the two-thirds majority it needed. But the pro-establishment camp's plan to blame pan-democrats for the failure of reform was severely undermined, as the walkout left just eight yes votes and a clear majority against the package.
The eight who voted yes were the five Liberal Party lawmakers, the Federation of Trade Unions' Chan Yuen-han, and independents Lam Tai-fai and Chan Kin-por. Legco President Jasper Tsang Yok-sing and labour representative Poon Siu-ping were present but did not vote.
Hongkongers watched incredulous as the pan-democrats took the upper hand, and ridiculed the pro-establishment camp for being ignorant of Legco's rules of procedure.
Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, an Executive Council member and vice-chairman of the Business and Professionals Alliance, bore the brunt of the criticism for asking his colleagues to walk out to wait for Lau. "Let me say sorry," Lam said, blaming it on what he said was miscommunication.
But a frustrated FTU lawmaker, Wong Kwok-kin, described the debacle as a "stupid and careless mistake which certainly would anger Beijing".
Alliance chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said he went to Beijing's liaison office yesterday afternoon with several party colleagues to tell "a deputy director" what happened. Meanwhile, according to Liberal Party sources, senior liaison office officials called party leader Vincent Fang Kang at about 1pm yesterday to praise its lawmakers.
A mainland official handling Hong Kong affairs said the central government was surprised by the walkout. "What happened eventually was quite embarrassing," the official said. "On the face of it, the voting results didn't look so good but all people know well the reasons for the rejection of the reform package."
Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying tried to play down the gaffe, insisting that his allies in Legco had been consistently clear about their support for the reform package. He blamed those who voted no instead: "It means five million eligible voters will be unable to exercise their democratic rights in the next chief executive election." Leung reiterated that he would now focus on social, economic and livelihood issues over the next two years.
READ MORE: Hong Kong lawmakers explain botched walkout that left reform plan with just 8 votes of support
A source close to the chief executive said Leung had invited 42 pro-establishment lawmakers to a banquet to thank them for their support, but Leung Ka-lau was left out.
Beijing was quick to blame the pan-democrats. A spokesman for the General Office of the National People's Congress Standing Committee complained that "the minority of Hong Kong lawmakers insisted on confronting the central government", while a Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office spokesman condemned them for "obstructing democratic development".
The Standing Committee also indicated it would not back down on its reform blueprint. "The decision shall continue to serve as the constitutional ground for Hong Kong in the future as it enforces universal suffrage in the chief executive election, and its legal force is unquestionable," Xinhua reported, citing a Standing Committee statement.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who led the reform push, was grim-faced throughout yesterday's debate and vote, but took a relatively positive tone after the package was rejected. "We need to be rational, pragmatic and understanding in solving problems, and we need to communicate in different ways," she said.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit declared it "the start of a new wave of democratic movement". He said: "We will be the gatekeepers in the legislature, not just for a real choice and democracy, but we will also monitor the government on economic and livelihood issues."
Additional reporting by Stuart Lau and Gary Cheung
Watch: Hong Kong reform package defeated, pro-Beijing lawmakers walk out before vote