Pro-Beijing and big business lawmakers voted down a nonbinding motion calling for direct election of Hong Kong's leader and all legislative seats.
Twenty-one lawmakers approved the motion late Wednesday and 19 opposed it. But it failed despite the majority vote because of an unusual arrangement that also requires approval by a majority of lawmakers picked by special-interest groups. The vote among those lawmakers was 14 against and 5 in favor.
Legislators chosen by Hong Kong citizens tend to be opposition members and democracy backers. The majority of the Legislative Council, however, is either picked by special-interest groups or by an elite committee of businesspeople and pro-Beijing figures.
The latter committee chose Hong Kong's current leader, former shipping tycoon Tung Chee-hwa, after the former British colony's return to Chinese rule in 1997.
Ordinary Hong Kong citizens were allowed to elect lawmakers for just 24 of the 60 legislative seats in the 2000 election.
Demands for political reform have escalated since a massive protest in July brought 500,000 people out against a Beijing-backed national security bill. Tung later withdrew the measure.