COMING hot on the heels of the end of the first plenum of the Preparatory Committee last Saturday, the Legislative Council's motion debate on shadow government on Wednesday night was hardly coincidental. But the result was a slight surprise. The motion sponsored by maverick legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing calling for a 'one-man, one-vote' method to elect the chief executive and the legislature was defeated by only one vote. The decisive vote was cast by president Andrew Wong Wang-fat after the members ended up in a tie of 26-26 at the end of a three-hour debate. With 19 votes from the Democrats, Ms Lau's bid received backing from most of the independents plus like-minded unionists, including Christine Loh Kung-wai, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee, Elizabeth Wong Chien Chi-lien, Yum Sin-ling, Lee Cheuk-yan and Leung Yiu-chung. Their votes were cancelled out by the unholy alliance of the pro-China legislators and the Liberal Party members, many of whom now sit on the Preparatory Committee. The four members from the Association for Democracy and People's Livelihood, including chairman Frederick Fung Kin-kee who is a committee member, have emerged as the major force that could tilt the balance. The four and an independent, Leong Che-hung, abstained. David Li Kwok-po and Lo Suk-ching, who are also committee members, did not vote. To many opponents of the motion, the headline of yesterday's pro-Beijing Ta Kung Pao captured their feelings. It read: 'Silly motion, vicious motives.' Ms Lau's motion urges the Chinese Government to make immediate preparations for the election of the chief executive and the legislature by a 'one-man, one-vote' system and allow all Hong Kong people to fully participate in the formation of the Special Administrative Region (SAR). This is because, it says, of 'the public's lack of confidence in the vague promise made by the Chinese officials that a 'second power centre' will not be established in Hong Kong and their fear the Chinese Government will unilaterally form a 'shadow government', resulting in the continuation of the colonial rule in Hong Kong after the changeover'. The two-pronged motion attacked the credibility of the committee on one hand and, on the other, revised the campaign to speed up democracy as against the gradualist approach for democratic development enshrined in the Basic Law. It represents a vote of no-confidence towards the China-appointed committee and the repeated pledges made by Beijing officials the powerful body would not interfere. On the contrary, the dividing line between them versus the loyalists and sympathisers to China has and will become clearer. A committee member, Ngai Shiu-kit, accused Ms Lau of trying to incite unrest and spread the message that 'the Basic Law should not be trusted'. Less provocative, his colleague David Chu Yu-lin made the plea that 'antagonism pays no dividends': 'If we refuse to trust China, why should China trust us to maintain the stability and prosperity of Hong Kong? 'I ask that we give the Preparatory Committee the chance to do its work and judge it according to its performance, not to some individual prejudices . . . it is more constructive and worthwhile for us to get on with ushering in tomorrow than in rehashing old arguments.' Wishful thinking as Mr Chu's call may turn out to be, the Wednesday debate is merely the curtain-raiser of the standoff between China's handover committee and Legco in the months ahead. Excluded from the committee and with no official channels to express their opinions, the Democrats and like-minded allies such as Ms Lau and Ms Loh will try to use Legco as the forum to monitor, if not attack, the committee. It will be hardly surprising that controversial issues such as how the 400-member selection committee should be chosen and the first chief executive be named will surface on the agenda of Legco. The dividing line will become one between critics and defenders of the 150-strong committee. Despite the fact that a motion will not be binding to the Government, any defeat in warding off a challenge against the committee will deal a blow to the efforts by the Chinese Government to bolster the credibility and support for the committee. It is no surprise that moves by Ms Lau to underline 'the lack of confidence' and 'fear' of the public over the committee have rubbed the raw nerves of Beijing, whose strong counter-attack can only be expected. The attacks and counter-attacks between the two camps are unlikely to disappear. Criticism of the committee is bound to increase as its six sub-groups begin putting into practice the rules of confidentiality and collective responsibility in their discussion. Thus it forms a vicious circle. The committee keeps under wraps its deliberations, followed by fierce attacks from Democrats and the like, followed by the refusal of the committee members to talk to their critics. The bone of contention between the pro-democracy forces and the committee will not be limited to the degree of transparency, but substantive issues to be decided by the committee. Chinese officials and some committee members have already made clear there would be little room for a more democratic way to choose the chief executive and the selection committee because of constitutional and practical difficulty in holding large-scale elections in the territory under British rule. The plan to set up a provisional legislature to be hammered out by another committee sub-group will again cause friction in and outside Legco. Rounding off the debate, Ms Lau said: 'Members want to help set up the future government. They were excluded by the Chinese side. How can people trust the Chinese side?' She lamented: 'Our days are numbered . . . today's debate will be a mirror through which we can see the ugly faces.' Eric Li Ka-cheung believes that does not bode well for Hong Kong in its last phase of transition. 'It's not a reassuring vote,' he said, arguing that the six sub-groups of the committee have clear directives to follow. 'On the contrary, the Legco has talked about the release of Wei Jingsheng and the Preparatory Committee. Who's the shadow over who?' With the centre of political gravity shifting towards the committee, Legco will be at a loss over its role, now that even the Government has become more a lame duck. One thing is certain: the polarised debate at Legco on Wednesday will be part of the new political scene in the next few months or so.