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Wang Chau housing saga

Hong Kong pan-democrats hopeful of getting four more votes in bid to launch Wang Chau probe

That would leave them just three votes short in launching the probe, but the chances of securing them from strong allies of the government ­remain remote

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 22 September, 2016, 10:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 23 September, 2016, 6:02pm

The pan-democratic camp and its allies have a chance of getting four more votes from pro-establishment lawmakers to invoke the Legislative Council’s special powers and investigate the government’s controversial handling of the Wang Chau public housing development plan.

That would leave them just three votes short in launching the probe, but the chances of securing them from strong allies of the government ­remain remote.

Outgoing lawmaker James Tien Pei-chun told the Post yesterday that four of his recently elected Liberal Party colleagues in the newly elected legislature should support a formal probe.

He was speaking a day after Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying took ultimate responsibility for the partial suspension of the Wang Chau project in Yuen Long.

On Wednesday, Leung denied bowing to pressure from rural strongmen with vested land interests in deciding to phase the building of 17,000 public housing flats, and to defer the bulk of it, shifting the development from a brownfield site to a nearby area that will have to be vacated by residents from three villages.

Some 30 pan-democrat and localist lawmakers remained ­unsatisfied by Leung’s explanation, and vowed to push for a ­Legco investigation after they are sworn into office on October 12.

Under the split-voting system in Legco, members can only initiate a formal probe with majority support among 35 ­geographical constituency lawmakers, as well as their 35 counterparts in the trade-based functional constituencies. The pan-democrats and localists dominate the former group with 19 seats, but have only 11 in the second – seven short of a majority.

“Hongkongers still have doubts and worries ... such as why Tsang distanced himself from the decision in the first place,” said Tien, who has become an open critic of the chief executive despite his party’s traditional support for the establishment. “If officials fail to alleviate these doubts by mid-October, a probe will be needed.”

Chances of his four party ­colleagues heeding the call, though, seem uncertain.

New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee told the Post by email that officials should first answer key questions at Legco’s development panel, before a formal probe is considered. “[Tsang’s earlier] statement explicitly said he did not authorise the phased development,” she said. “Were the chief secretary and [Tsang] simply asked to rubber-stamp a fait accompli?”

But the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and the Business and Professionals Alliance, which ­together hold 11 seats in the functional constituencies, are almost certain to oppose the probe. DAB vice-chairman Gary Chan Hak-kan said a probe was unnecessary as “officials explained the matter quite clearly on Wednesday”.