Debate on a controversial electoral bill in the Legislative Council had to be suspended yesterday when lawmakers' attendance fell below the minimum level required.
The suspension came after 10 pro-government lawmakers surprisingly failed to turn up while pan-democrats boycotted the debate in support of a filibuster mounted in an effort to have the measure withdrawn.
It was the first time since the handover that a debate had been suspended during scrutiny of a government bill, although it had happened six times before during discussion of lawmakers' motions.
Legislative Council president Tsang Yok-sing urged the government to consider the priority of its remaining bills as the schedule for the remainder of the council's term was packed and it would be difficult to squeeze time for extra meetings.
'The current term has to end on July 18 because of September's election,' Tsang said. 'The government should consider which bills are more urgent and should be tabled first and which should be withdrawn.'
Ironically, the last suspension was in 2010 when pro-government lawmakers staged a walk-out while five pan-democrats who were quitting to force by-elections were about to deliver their resignation speeches.
The current bill, which would prevent lawmakers who resigned from standing in a by-election for six months, is designed to ensure such a 'de facto referendum' does not happen again.
Any bill that has not been passed by the time Legco's four-year term expires will lapse.
Outstanding measures include the long-awaited competition law, legislation to regulate sales of new flats, a government restructuring proposed by chief executive-elect Leung Chun-ying and controversial amendments to the copyright law which the government has already decided to postpone.
The meeting was scheduled to resume at 9am yesterday after nine hours of debate on Wednesday about the electoral bill, to which People Power lawmaker Albert Chan Wai-yip has raised more than 1,000 amendments as a delaying tactic.
Thirty of the 60 lawmakers must be present during a debate, which must be stopped if that quorum is not met within 15 minutes of a summons to attend.
By 9.15am, only 27 pro-government legislators and no pan-democrats were in the chamber.
But four pan-democrat lawmakers - People Power's Chan and Wong Yuk-man, Labour Party vice-chairwoman Cyd Ho Sau-lan and the Civic Party's Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee - were waiting outside.
When Tsang called off the meeting, Tam Yiu-chung, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was among the first to leave the chamber and he denounced the pan-democrats.
'I am very disappointed at those who didn't enter although they are in the building and chatting with reporters,' the pro-government lawmaker said.
Chan hit back, saying: 'It's a lesson to the pro-establishment lawmakers that they should take up their responsibility to attend the meetings if they want to safeguard the passage of government bills. As an opposition member, my mission is to block the bill.'
Among those absent was rural power broker and Heung Yee Kuk chief Lau Wong-fat, who said he had been held up in a traffic jam.
Wong Kwok-hing, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said he was held up by a delay on the MTR.
Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, chairwoman of the New People Party, said she was too tired to attend because of hard work the previous day.
All three apologised for being absent.
The debate on the election bill is expected to continue at the next council meeting on Wednesday.
The least number of lawmakers who must be present for a debate on a bill to go forward in the Legislative Council