Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier suffered a one-vote defeat in an election yesterday to head the Legislative Council's constitutional affairs panel. Legislators were electing the chairs and vice-chairs of 18 panels. Despite concerns about cleanliness in Hong Kong in the wake of the Sars outbreak, of the 18 panels, the one covering food safety and environmental hygiene drew the least interest. It will have only nine members this session. With democratic reform a major focus of the new session, 37 of the 59 lawmakers other than Legco chairwoman Rita Fan Hsu Lai-tai have joined the constitutional affairs panel. The panel's chair will have a big say in how Legco handles the issue. Ms Lau, formerly the panel's vice-chairwoman, got 16 votes to 17 for incumbent chairman independent Andrew Wong Wang-fat. She will remain vice-chairwoman. It was not the only panel for which the chairman and deputy were re-elected. In other cases, the chairmen and vice-chairmen swapped places under an apparent agreement among parties to maintain the balance of power in Legco. Chan Kam-lam, chairman of the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong, lost the chairmanship of the housing panel to Democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan, formerly its vice-chairman, by a vote of 11 to three.