In a dramatic turn of events, the government on Tuesday afternoon notified both pan-democratic and pro-establishment lawmakers of its decision to withdraw a non-binding motion for the Legislative Council to support its proposal to adjust toll fees at the three cross-harbor tunnels in order to alleviate traffic congestion.
Apparently, a key factor behind the administration’s last-minute decision is that it was unable to secure a majority vote in the legislature.
However, a government source explained that as traffic conditions at the partially opened Central-Wan Chai Bypass have remained abnormal over the past three days, the administration is concerned that lawmakers might cite the situation as grounds to vote against the motion.
As such, the government has decided that it would be more appropriate to wait for one or two months to allow traffic conditions at the bypass to return to normal before putting the motion to a vote again in Legco.
The government knew it would be difficult to push the proposal when it put forward the motion on Jan. 3.
There is also a notion in political circles that the government wasn’t acting in good faith when it proposed the toll hikes.
According to this conspiracy theory, the administration was pressing ahead with the initiative despite the opposition from the pan-dems and the pro-establishment camp because it only wanted to “take advantage” of the Legco and force a vote on the proposal, which basically stood no chance of getting passed.
A number of government figures have denied this, stressing that both Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and the government officials responsible for introducing the proposal had been genuinely hoping that it would pass the Legco since day one.
While members of the pro-establishment camp generally welcomed the withdrawal of the motion, it is said that they were against the proposed toll hikes because the plan itself was simply unacceptable, and many of them were dismayed because the government, according to sources, didn’t even bother to consult them back to early January.
That has given some pro-Beijing lawmakers the impression that the administration was taking their support for granted, hence the backlash.
Meanwhile, the chief executive wants to sit down with members of the various factions of the pro-establishment camp next week.
Both the government and the pro-Beijing camp insist that the gatherings have nothing to do with the withdrawn motion, but some pro-establishment lawmakers believe Lam is taking the opportunity to mend fences with them.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Jan 23
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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