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Legislative Council elections 2016

Legco election candidates to face ‘follow-up action’ if they back Hong Kong independence, government warns

Government says to support a breakaway is against the Basic Law and against a statutory declaration signed by candidates

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 2:57pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 August, 2016, 11:40pm

Candidates who advocate ­independence for Hong Kong on the campaign trail ahead of ­Sunday’s Legislative Council elections will face possible “follow-up actions”, the government warned on Tuesday.

The heads-up came a day after a third Legco candidate, Kacee Wong Sum-yu, publicly declared her support for the idea of separating Hong Kong from China.

The issue is at the centre of a fierce debate in the city, with the government warning that it violates the Basic Law while advocates counter that it is a mater of free speech.

Voters go to the polls this weekend for the first full legislative elections since the 2014 Occupy protests in the name of democracy.

“The government is concerned that ... individual candidates have during the election period advocated or promoted the independence of the Hong Kong SAR,” an official spokesman said.

He noted this went against the statutory declaration candidates were required to sign pledging to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and accept China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

The government “reserves the right to take follow-up actions in accordance with the law”, the statement said.

No further details were given, leaving everyone guessing.

“It seems that once ... validly nominated, the returning officer does not have the power to disqualify a candidate,” Benny Tai Yiu-ting, the constitutional law scholar at the University of Hong Kong who founded the 2014 ­Occupy movement, said.

Under the Legislative Council Ordinance, the returning officer must decide whether a person is validly nominated as a candidate “as soon as practicable” after receiving a nomination form.

Otherwise the government can sue candidates for violating their signed declarations recognising Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China.

The maximum penalty under the Crimes Ordinance is a two-year jail term.

According to Article 79 of the Basic Law, a lawmaker jailed for a month or more can be disqualified upon affirmation by two-thirds of the whole chamber.

Tai’s HKU law faculty colleague, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, said in a media interview that the bar for successful criminal prosecution against the candidates would be high.

Returning officers have already disqualified six pro-independence aspirants. But that has not stopped at least three candidates from going ahead and pledging support for a separatist agenda that has upset Beijing.

In a video posted on Facebook, Kowloon East candidate Chan Chak-to – who backed independence calls at a previous forum – said such aspirations should be an “attitude” that Hongkongers should maintain to voice disapproval of the current city and ­central governments.

Chan told the media on Tuesday that he would not be deterred by the latest official statement.

He and another localist contender, Wong Chun-kit, declared at a public rally on Sunday that they supported independence.

At a New Territories East election forum organised by RTHK on Monday, Kacee Wong openly voiced support for separatism in a bid to challenge the returning ­officers.

She argued that freedom of expression was effectively hanging on a single word – independence – that could be grounds to terminate her candidacy.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, another localist candidate, said his lawyer had told him there would be no way for the government to disqualify any candidate who had already been validated.