Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's first policy address was given the thumbs down at a Legislative Council meeting last night.
After a marathon debate lasting almost 32 hours across three days, most functional-constituency lawmakers backed the motion, voting 24 to 10 in favour. But geographical-constituency lawmakers rejected it, 18 to 16. A majority on both sides was needed for the motion to pass.
Speaking before the vote, House Committee chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said he hoped officials would listen to the comments legislators made throughout the debate, regardless of the fate of the motion.
The rejection was the ninth since the 1997 handover that legislators have refused to thank the chief executive for his policy address.
In a last-ditch attempt to secure more votes, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor challenged criticism that the speech lacked substance, noting many of the policies Leung announced had been made public.
"If the chief executive had reserved the policies for the address, it definitely would have brought a more positive reaction from society," Lam said.
She avoided tackling criticism that the speech was vague about implementing universal suffrage for the chief executive election, a landmark change widely expected among the public and which Beijing had said was possible in 2017.
In reply to lawmakers' comments that the government's old-age allowance plan announced on Thursday was of little benefit to the elderly, Lam said: "We understand the expectation is to have more effective and thorough work to alleviate poverty."
On long-term population challenges, she said it would be the government's "priority" to ensure Hongkongers were taken care of, but importing labour was inevitable. "The size of the labour force is expected to decline after 2018. The trend will add burden to the working population."
Seven amendments to the motion, tabled by the pan-democrats and Beijing-loyalist Federation of Trade Unions legislator Wong Kwok-hing, were also defeated.
They dealt with expressing regret over the government's measures to tackle the housing shortage, the lack of consultation on a universal retirement protection scheme, and standard working hours.
Starry Lee Wai-king, a legislator with the Beijing-friendly Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, called on Leung to strengthen the partnership between his administration and parties friendly towards it.
"Leung has faced demands to resign from his post three times since he took office in July last year," Lee said. "His administration is facing a governance crisis. The government should consider measures to ease the tension between the legislature and the executive arm."
League of Social Democrats legislator Leung Kwok-hung accused the chief executive of failing to tackle the climbing price of property and niches at columbariums. "No matter if it's the poor or the dead, with the skyrocketing prices of property and columbarium niches, no one has decent shelter."
Additional reporting by Stuart Lau