A farcical headcount blunder caused the Legislative Council debate on the controversial copyright bill to be adjourned for the fifth time since December on Wednesday – even though the quorum had

been met.

The unprecedented mix-up happened as Legco resumed scrutinising the bill at 3pm, two hours after Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah finished his budget speech at the council.

At 4.15pm, 15 minutes after a quorum bell was rung, Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said the meeting would be adjourned until March 2 as only 34 were in the chamber – one short of a quorum.

But Tsang later revealed there were in fact 35 lawmakers in the chamber, and the meeting should have continued.

“The secretariat just confirmed the attendance … but since I announced the adjournment, the meeting cannot be resumed [until next week],” Tsang said. “It was the first time something like this happened.”

Tsang explained that he relied on two staff from Legco’s secretariat to count attendances. They usually watch the chamber’s main door and count through a computer app, which shows the tally on a screen in front of him.

“Since some lawmakers entered through the side door and a large number entered the chamber within the last few seconds, it was difficult to make an accurate count,” Tsang said.

All but one of the 35 were from the Beijing-loyalist camp. IT representative Charles Mok was the only pan-democrat present, as his camp has been staying away from the meeting in an effort to force the government to shelve the bill.

Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Greg So Kam-leung refused to speak afterwards, but his press secretary said the minister was “disappointed” that so much time had been lost.

The government sees the bill as necessary to align Hong Kong with global standards of intellectual property protection. But sceptical internet users and pan-democrats call it “Internet Article 23”, in reference to the Basic Law provision on national security.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, of the Federation of Trade Unions, said it would be “wise” for the government to shelve the bill as the legislature face a staggering backlog of nearly 30 other bills that must be voted on before mid-July.

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