Legco finally passes Hong Kong budget bill with limited pan-democratic support
By 49-18 tally, vote for annual measure ends months of filibustering but lays bare frustration with legislature’s president
A months-long filibuster against the government’s annual budget ended with the bill’s passage on Friday as pro-establishment lawmakers heaped rare criticism on the legislature’s president whom they said had turned a blind eye to delaying tactics.
Forty-nine lawmakers voted for this year’s budget bill put forward by Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah – the most votes garnered for the annual appropriation measure during his tenure. The Democratic Party, in a break from recent years, backed its passage.
Independent pan-democrats Charles Mok, Kenneth Leung and Dr Joseph Lee Kok-long also voted in favour. Eighteen pan-democratic lawmakers opposed it. There were no abstentions.
The debate on the appropriation bill, unveiled in February, had been halted three times in previous weeks as too few lawmakers were present in the chamber following repeated calls for the quorum bell – a tactic adopted by radical pan-democrats to delay passage because they claimed the bill neglected low-income earners.
After Friday’s vote, Tsang spoke of the efforts leading up to it.
“Four years in a row, the annual appropriation bill was subject to filibustering by a few Legco members who wasted considerable time and resources,” he said. “I wish to thank the 49 members who voted for the bill, especially those in the pro-establishment camp who gave so much time and effort.”
Tsang reiterated that Hong Kong’s economy would suffer from downward pressure this year owing to a weak and volatile external environment. He pledged to implement the initiatives he identified in his budget address as soon as possible.
Earlier Friday, several Beijing-friendly lawmakers restated their frustration with the protracted debate. But at the same time some hit out at Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing, a heavyweight in their camp.
Finance sector lawmaker Ng Leung-sing challenged Tsang’s decision to approve lawmakers’ reams of amendments. Tsang earlier slashed the number of budget amendments from 2,168 to 407.
Ng said lawmakers needed to approve the budget but had faced “so many difficulties in reviewing it”.
Also before Friday’s vote, House Committee chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen of the Business and Professionals Alliance said he hoped Tsang “could handle [the debate] better so it would not be dragged out”.
Friday was the first time the Democratic Party supported a government budget bill since Leung Chun-ying became chief executive in 2012. The party’s move was regarded as sending a strong message to back Tsang, whom they said had made a considerable long-term investment in Hong Kong and knew better than the chief executive how to mend deep-rooted conflicts in the city.