Pro-democracy lawmakers yesterday said a government bill to prepare for next year's chief executive election was shameful, as the administration had failed to use it as a means to advance democracy. But despite the accusation, the bill was passed by 31 votes to 21 by pro-government legislators. They accused the democrats of hypocrisy for criticising the bill while preparing to take part in the chief executive race themselves. The government has said the chief executive poll will be held on March 25 next year, after the 800-strong Election Committee is elected on December 10. In the debate on the election bill, Margaret Ng Ngoi-yee of the Civic Party said it was worrying that it offered so little in terms of progress in democracy. She said the government should be ashamed of itself. 'It was an opportunity lost.' The bill, tabled by the government after the defeat of its constitutional reform proposal in December, seeks to provide a vote of endorsement to any chief executive candidate if he or she is the sole contestant in the election. The government has disregarded calls by lawmakers to relax rules barring candidates with political party membership from becoming chief executive. Officials have also dismissed calls for a cap on the number of nominations a candidate can receive above the required 100, which would prevent a repeat of any single candidate securing more than 700 nominations, the case in the past two elections. Albert Ho Chun-yan of the Democratic Party said the bill was a letdown for the people because the government had done nothing to improve democracy. 'Your record is shameful,' he said. Unionist Lee Cheuk-yan said anyone voting in support of the bill would be 'dressing up corpses'. His colleague Emily Lau Wai-hing of The Frontier said: 'I will oppose any such proposals as long as I am breathing. I don't care if such actions will prevent me from visiting Beijing forever.' Tsang Yok-sing, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, asked democrats: 'How can you encourage people to register for an election when you don't even want a law to define its details?'