In a historic independent vote, Hong Kong's legislature on Thursday rejected a China-vetted electoral reform package that had been roundly criticized by pro-democracy lawmakers and activists as flawed and undemocratic.
The move came as a firm rejection of China's interference with the prosperous, free and distinctly un-Chinese principality of Hong Kong.
The vote came even as China sent hundreds of Beijing supporters to protest outside government buildings as city legislators voted.
Hong Kong was once a British territory but was handed over to the Chinese in 1997. Residents are notoriously proud of their Western culture and freedoms, which run sharply counter to China's communist society.
Yesterday's vote happened earlier than expected, with only 37 of the legislature's 70 legislators present. 28 lawmakers voted against the plan and 8 voted in favor, while one did not cast their vote.
Moments before the ballot, a large number of lawmakers on both sides of the issue suddenly walked out of the chamber, highlighting how contentious China's involvement with the smooth-running country is.
The no vote will at least temporarily appease some pro-democracy activists who had demanded a veto of what they call a "fake" democratic model for how Hong Kong chooses its next CEO in 2017.
"This veto has helped Hong Kong people send a clear message to Beijing...that we want a genuine choice, a real election," said pan-democratic lawmaker Alan Leong.
"This is not the end of the democratic movement," he said. "This is a new beginning."
Yet there are still fears of fresh unrest on Hong Kong streets between pro-democracy activists and Beijing supporters. Weeks of pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong in 2014 posed one of the most significant challenges for China's ruling Communist Party in years.
The Hong Kong reform proposal was laid out by the central government in Beijing last August and supported by Hong Kong's ruling pro-Beijing leadership. In a move to retain that influence in Asia's financial hub, the plan would have allowed a democratic vote for the city's next leader but only from a list of pre-screened, pro-Beijing candidates.
Opponents want a genuinely democratic election, which is what China promised in 1997 when it declared that universal suffrage would continue to be law when it took over the territory.