Pro-government lawmakers yesterday voted down a motion calling for a non-binding referendum on direct elections in 2007 and 2008. Proposed by legislator Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, the motion would have introduced a consultative referendum as a means to gauge public views on universal suffrage. But 31 legislators - mainly members of the Liberal Party, the Democratic Alliance for Betterment of Hong Kong and The Alliance - opposed the motion. Twenty from the pro-democracy camp voted in favour. The vote was taken during a special meeting of the constitutional affairs panel. Independent pro-democracy lawmakers Tam Heung-man and Joseph Lee Kok-long abstained. They had been criticised earlier for dropping their support of the motion at the last minute. Legislator Kwok Ka-ki, who met similar criticism, did not attend the meeting. During the discussion of the motion, pro-democracy lawmakers made a last-minute effort to challenge Secretary for Constitutional Affairs Stephen Lam Sui-lung on why a referendum was impossible. They said opinion polls had consistently shown that most people supported universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008. Democrat Martin Lee Chu-ming questioned why the National People's Congress did not make it clear in April that it had taken public opinion into account when ruling out direct elections. But Liberal Party chairman James Tien Pei-chun said some polls had shown that half the people did not support scrapping the functional constituencies in 2008. Mr Lam said the Basic Law did not provide for such a referendum. He said the most important point about universal suffrage in 2007 and 2008 was that it had already been ruled out by the National People's Congress, which he said had taken public opinion into account. 'It's true that about 62 per cent of electors support pro-democracy legislators' [stance on universal suffrage], but there were also nearly 40 per cent who cast their votes for other parties.'