For the second year in a row, Hong Kong’s legislature thanked the city leader for her annual policy address as it passed a symbolic motion on Friday, despite officials’ soured relationship with the pro-democracy camp.
But two of the three pan-democrats who broke ranks and supported the motion last year did not afford Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor the same courtesy this time around.
Ip Kin-yuen of the education sector abstained, while the accountancy sector’s Kenneth Leung did not vote and health services’ Joseph Lee Kok-long supported the motion.
Out of the 63 lawmakers present, 41 voted in favour, 20 were against, while one abstained.
The motion gained majority support from legislators in both the geographical and functional constituencies, as it required a split voting.
Of the 31 functional constituency lawmakers, 24 backed it, five were against and one abstained. Of the 32 geographical representatives, 17 supported it, 15 opposed and none abstained.
The three-day debate spanned some 34 hours and only wrapped up at 10pm on Friday, after many lawmakers used up their 30 minutes of speaking time.
The motion of thanks was tabled on Wednesday by House Committee chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king, who also chairs the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.
The annual tradition is a formal acknowledgement of the city leader’s speech, in which he or she announces their legislative agenda for the year. It has no bearing on the bills’ potential passage.
Last year the motion – a barometer of opposition members’ antipathy towards the administration, in a chamber filled in recent years with rancour and wrangling – received support from 43 lawmakers, while 15 voted against.
Over three days of debate, lawmakers gave views on the policies unveiled in this year’s address, delivered on October 10, most spending much of their time on a controversial reclamation proposal. The proposal, titled Lantau Tomorrow Vision, would involve reclaiming 1,700 hectares of land and creating artificial islands to house 1 million people.
It is expected to cost at least HK$500 billion (US$63.8 billion) and will take decades to realise.
During the debate on Friday, Council Front lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said the Lantau proposal ran against the government’s previous estimates on population growth.
In a study titled Hong Kong 2030 Plus, published in 2016, officials estimated the city’s population would peak at 8.22 million in 2043.
Hong Kong now has 7.44 million – 780,000 shy of the projected peak. But, Chu noted, the proposal is aimed at housing 1 million.
In defence of the Lantau plan, pro-Beijing lawmaker Chan Kin-por, who chairs Legco’s Finance Committee, said alternative land sources, such as brownfield sites and farmland, would take too long to get ready for building on.
By selling land reclaimed under the Lantau proposal, the government could make more than HK$100 billion, he said.
“This could be turning sand into gold,” Chan added.