‘It’s not about independence’, protesters in march against disqualification of Legco candidates say

Some are marching for freedom of speech and fair elections; only three of the six banned Legco aspirants showed up

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 10:11pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2016, 11:28pm

Hundreds of people took to the streets on Sunday in a protest march against the disqualification of six pro-independence Legislative Council candidates, as marchers said they were there to defend Hong Kong’s political rights and freedom of speech – not to support independence.

Organisers estimated that 1,300 protesters took part, while a police spokeswoman said the march’s turnout peaked at 760.

The rally drew lukewarm response from localist groups. Among the six banned aspirants, only Alice Lai Yi-man, Nakade Hitsujiko and Yeung Ke-cheong showed up, while independent candidate James Chan Kwok-keung, Hong Kong National Party’s Chan Ho-tin, and Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung Tin-kei did not attend.

Marching to different tunes: disqualified localist Legco candidates not keen on protest seen as pan-democrat tool

March organiser Jimmy Sham Tsz-kit, convenor of Civil Human Rights Front – an alliance of pan-democratic groups – had estimated that up to 2,000 people would gather in Causeway Bay when the march kicked off at 3pm.

After the protest ended outside Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s office in Admiralty at 4.30pm, Sham said he was neither satisfied nor disappointed with the turnout. “Many people came out to express their discontent, so how can we be happy when people are angry?” he explained.

One of the participants, Chily Chau, a second-year social work student at Baptist University, said: “I have reservations about independence as a way out for Hong Kong... and I might not vote for a pro-independence candidate if I were given the choice. But Hongkongers should at least be allowed to vote in a fair election.”

Alan Wong, a 62-year-old retiree, said: “Independence is next to impossible at this stage... but free-thinking voters should be making the decision if they support it, not the government.”

Hong Kong electoral officials acted within their scope in disqualifying candidates

A 50-year-old banker, who only gave his surname as Chan, said he did not have a stance on independence yet.

But he added: “Our young people are just talking or studying about independence ... but our government is destroying our political system, freedom [of speech] and core values [to stop them].”

At the end of the march, Sham questioned why those who “claimed to be democrats” did not show up “to make their stance clear”. He refused to elaborate on who he was referring to.

James Chan told the Post that he was in Japan for an urgent business trip. A spokeswoman for Leung’s group said their leader was “not invited” to the march, while Chan Ho-tin could not be reached for comment.

Disqualifying localist Legco candidates lets politics ‘eat into’ legal system, former Bar Association chair says

The snub by localists highlighted the gap between them and the pan-democrats. Some localists had questioned if the event was a pan-democratic tool. Both camps had clashed on whether marches were effective in fighting for democracy, and whether independence was a way out for Hong Kong’s problems.

In a statement, a government spokesman reiterated that electoral officers handled Legco candidacies “in strict accordance with the Basic Law, the relevant legislation, as well as the principle of impartiality”.

Meanwhile, in an interview with Xinhua, Zhou Pingxue, director of Shenzhen University’s centre for Basic Law studies, said it was legitimate for Hong Kong’s election watchdog to ban independence advocates from running for Legco.