HONG KONG — Hong Kong lawmakers defeated the government's Beijing-backed election plan Thursday, vindicating pro-democracy activists who flooded the streets last year in protest but leaving the city's long-term political future up in the air.
Lawmakers spent two days debating the proposal, which would have allowed Hong Kong citizens to vote for the top leader for the first time in 2017, but require all candidates to be approved by Beijing.
The crucial legislature vote ended in a confusing anticlimax when most pro-establishment lawmakers walked out moments before it began in what appeared to be a bungled attempt to delay the vote by depriving it of a quorum. The proposal was rejected after 28 lawmakers, all but one from pro-democracy parties, voted against it. Eight were in favor and 34 did not cast votes.
"This is the starting point of another wave of democratic movement"
Even if the lawmakers had remained, the proposal would have been rejected because the government needed at least 47 of 70 votes for approval.
Outside the legislature, pro-democracy supporters cheered after hearing the result.
The defeat marks the end of the territory's most tumultuous year since Beijing took control in 1997. Known for being a stable and prosperous Asian financial center, Hong Kong has been hit by chaotic and unruly protests since Beijing's legislature decreed last August that it wanted elections to be restricted. Tens of thousands of people, most of them students, took to the streets in response, occupying busy thoroughfares in three neighborhoods for 11 weeks last autumn to protest what they called "fake democracy."
The defeat raises the prospect of a political stalemate for years to come.
China's legislature signaled its determination not to back down from its August decision despite the veto.
"Its legal force is unquestionable," the National People's Congress Standing Committee said in a statement, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
Hong Kong is a former British colony that retains its own legal and financial system and civil liberties such as freedom of speech not seen on the mainland. Even during colonial times, residents were unable to choose their leader, then known as the governor, who was dispatched from London.
Pro-democracy leaders vowed to continue fighting for genuine democracy.
"Today is not the end of the democracy movement," said lawmaker Alan Leong. "Quite the contrary, this is the starting point of another wave of democratic movement."