A move by major government allies to scrap funding for the May 16 Legco by-elections was rejected by a majority vote in the legislature yesterday, despite strong criticism against the organisers of a 'de facto referendum' for universal suffrage.
This removal of the last hurdle for the by-elections triggered by the resignations of three lawmakers from the League of Social Democrats and two from the Civic Party, came after a survey found people's dissatisfaction with Legco's performance surged to a five-year high.
After an almost five-hour debate to remove HK$147 million from the government's budget, the resolution, moved by Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-hing, was rejected with only the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and two independents backing the union.
'They are turning the by-election into a referendum [for universal suffrage] ...Why is the government forcing Legco the pass the funding?' asked Wong, who condemned the Civic Party and the league for having a political agenda, saying it contravened the Basic Law.
Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung warned that the two parties would pay the price for exploiting what he called legal loophole.
'I believe the Civic Party and the league clearly understand they are utilising a legal loophole. The people can see,' he said.
The five-hour debate on Wong's amendment is the last of the nine tabled to the financial secretary's budget, which was passed by a vote of 35-16 at the end of a two-day session. All pan-democrats present at the meeting voted against the budget saying it lacks measures to help the needy.
The debate quickly degenerated into a shouting match between government allies and pan-democrats, with the issue of functional constituencies - of which existence was the theme of the de facto referendum exercise, became the triggering point.
Tourism sector lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun accused the Civic Party, in particular Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, for her participation in the legal sector constituency despite her party's opposition to the trade-base seats.
Hitting back, Civic Party leader Audrey Eu Yuet-mee said: 'Are you suffering from schizophrenia?' She referred to Tse's support of his partner Pamela Pak Wan-kam in running for a seat in the by-election, as well as opposing to the election funding.
She urged people to vote in the election, as it would be a direct channel for them to air their democratic aspirations. A strong show of public support would deter Beijing from keeping these trade-based seats, she said.
Ip Kwok-him, of the DAB, joined in the defence of Wong's resolution, saying his party would not participant, nor canvass for candidates, nor vote in the by-election.
The Liberal Party, and other pro-government independents, said they had no choice but to reject the resolution because it was the government's duty to carry out the election.
The vote was defeated by a large margin in both the geographical and functional constituencies.
As lawmakers were debating, the University of Hong Kong released a survey of 1,012 respondents which found public dissatisfaction with the general performance of lawmakers had reached a five-year high.
The figure has risen by 2 percentage points to 49 per cent comparing to a similar survey conducted three months ago, when the two parties first announced their plan to carry out the de facto referendum exercise. In September last year, the figure was 34 per cent.
In the latest survey, 18 per cent of respondents said they were satisfied with Legco's performance.
Robert Chung Ting-yiu, director of the university's public opinion programme, said the surge in dissatisfaction was probably due to the constitutional reform row and the lawmakers' resignations.