After 20 months of debate, two public consultations, a controversial decision from Beijing, 79 days of occupying the streets— not to mention an alleged bomb plot— the Hong Kong Government’s reform package for electing the Chief Executive in 2017 was finally voted down in the Legislative Council on Thursday (June 18).
Despite constant second guessing from the media and general public, there was no dramatic turnaround within the pan-democratic camp. All 27 pan-democrats (plus Medical FC lawmaker Leung Ka-Lau) voted ‘no’. Instead, the drama came from the other side.
The last-minute gaffe
After Chief Secretary Carrie Lam and her Reform Task Force finished their final remarks, signalling the imminent beginning of the voting procedure, LegCo president Jasper Tsang ordered the beginning of the five-minute count before the vote. At around the two-minute mark, BPA’s Jeffrey Lam stood up requesting a 15-minute recess but was rejected by Tsang. The chairman stated that he could not grant a recess once the division bell began ringing.
Confusion ensued when the pro-establishment, led by DAB’s Ip Kwok-him, improvised a walk out seconds before the end of the five-minute count. The vote was then conducted with almost half the chamber cleared out. Just as Federation of Trade Union’s Wong Kwok Kin walked out, he told reporters the vote would be invalid given a quorum was not present.
Legislative Council rules state that a quorum cannot be less than one half of all its members including the President. In this case, 35 lawmakers.
Wong Kwok-Kin was dumbfounded when reporters told him the president had announced the package was officially voted down. The pro-establishment failed to force the recess.
The five Liberal Party lawmakers and three other pro-establishment legislators apparently did not get the memo and stayed inside the chamber. 37 legislators remained, completing the quorum.
The pro-establishment legislators who stayed behind were Liberal Party’s James Tien, Tommy Cheung, Vincent Fang, Chung Kwok-Pan, and Frankie Yick, FTU’s Chan Yuen-Han, and independents Lam Tai-Fai and Chan Kin-Por.
The subsequent vote was thus valid, and instead of the expected slight miss thanks to a pan-dem bloc veto, the proposal was rejected by a majority 28 to 8—a huge departure from the expected 28 to 41.
Led by Jeffrey Lam, a solemn pro-establishment camp later explained that the attempt to force a count was intended to buy time for rural kingpin Lau Wong-Fat to arrive and cast his vote. Lau showed up shortly after the vote and told reporters, “I feel horrible. I’m sorry.”
Not victors yet
Leading the pan-democrats, Civic Party’s Alan Leong said, “This veto has helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing…that we want a genuine choice, a real election.”
“This is not the end of the democratic movement,” he said. “This is the beginning of a new wave.”
Democratic Party’s Emily Lau said, “The sham package only received a few votes of support, Beijing and the HKSAR Government must restart the process, and so Hong Kong citizens may enjoy genuine universal suffrage soon.”
“This is no accident,” said Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-Yan. “History is on the side of democracy.”
The blame game
Nonetheless, the Chief Executive CY Leung refused to criticise the pro-establishment, blaming the pan-dems for vetoing the package. “Today, 28 LegCo members voted against the wishes of the majority of the Hong Kong people, and denied them their democratic right to elect the Chief Executive in the next election,” he said soon after the results were announced.
“[The] responsibility is very much on those members who voted against the Government’s motion and therefore denying 5 million eligible voters of their democratic rights,” he repeated again later.
Answering reporters’ questions, the CE reiterated several times that the 42 pro-establishment have “always stably and clearly showed their unwavering support towards the Government’s proposal.”
Reactions from Beijing, including the Liaison Office and Hong Kong and Macau Affairs office, all blamed “a small number of legislators” for blocking the democratic advancement of Hong Kong at the expense of Hong Kong people’s democratic aspirations. The National People’s Congress Standing Committee reaffirmed that the August 31st decision would remain in place, citing its “undoubted legal status”.
The other blame game
The pro-establishment’s blunder has continued to dominate headlines a day after the vote. Several legislators, including Ng Leung-Sing, indicated that they did not know why they were leaving the chamber when it happened. FTU’s Wong Kwok Kin asked DAB to shoulder the responsibility in a radio show this morning.
Regina Ip, chairwoman of the New People’s Party, shed tears today on a radio show, stating her regret for not being able to vote ‘yes’. James Tien, whose party indirectly foiled the delay tactic, refuted criticisms that they didn’t stick with the pro-establishment camp. Ann Chiang criticised both parties on her social media page, calling those who remained in the chamber “self-centred”, and those who left, “silly”. Jeffrey Lam also cried in LegCo today, apologising for causing the blunder.
While the pro-establishment’s error has dampened the blame put on pan-democrats for vetoing the package, they should not be too disappointed. CY Leung’s office has since announced they will treat the 42 pro-establishment lawmakers (excluding Leung Ka-Lau, who voted against the proposal) and the Reform Task Force to a hefty meal for their efforts.
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