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Legislative Council elections 2016

Onus is on government to explain why Legco candidates need to sign new ‘loyalty’ declaration

The aim is clear: prevent independence advocates from becoming lawmakers; what’s not clear is the legal reasoning and implications for such a rule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 1:38am
UPDATED : Friday, 22 July, 2016, 1:38am

There is no confusion about why the government wants people seeking to run in September’s Legislative Council elections to declare that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China. The aim is to block potential candidates of groups with platforms of self-determination and independence from standing. But the reasoning and implications have not been well explained, leading to uncertainty for nominees and voters alike. Authorities need to clarify their position and be explicit about what the rule change means.

Legco aspirants warned: criminal sanctions possible if you fail to sign new declaration accepting Hong Kong is part of China

The rule, announced two days before the nomination period began last Saturday, requires the signing of a declaration in addition to an existing one to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region. In announcing the decision, the independent Electoral Affairs Commission warned that anyone making a false declaration on the nomination form could face criminal prosecution. Debate has been sparked about such legality and whether returning officers are qualified to judge whether a potential candidate meets the requirements.

Beijing’s top representative in Hong Kong, Zhang Xiaoming, made clear on Wednesday that preventing the promotion of independence was a matter of principle rather than a legal issue. Pan-democrats and localists see it in terms of political censorship and a number of candidates have boycotted the form when handing in their applications. A meeting between a dozen pan-democrats and the commission’s chairman, Justice Barnabas Fung Wah, did nothing to lessen the confusion.

Legco is part of the political establishment. The Basic Law is clear, in Articles 1, 12 and 159(4), that Hong Kong is an inherent part of China. A declaration to that effect will have to be made by any elected candidate under Article 104. Those points surely cannot have escaped those pushing for a Hong Kong that is independent or governs its own affairs without regard for Beijing’s ultimate oversight; with such views, it has to be wondered why they would want to be involved with an institution such as Legco.

Legco aspirants warned: criminal sanctions possible if you fail to sign new declaration accepting Hong Kong is part of China

Groups seeking independence are on the fringe of politics and their views will not gain traction. Whether the government will disqualify their nominees from the September 4 election needs to be laid bare. Similarly, will others who have not signed be penalised? These are aside from the legalities. Making all clear in a timely manner before the election is in all our interests.