Any change in oversight of oath-taking by Hong Kong lawmakers likely to face stiff opposition, analysts warn
Experts say validation process amounts to political screening, but that allowing chief executive to do the job would smack of interference in legislature
A Beijing official says the person who administers lawmakers’ oaths should be “someone who can represent Hong Kong” and be “accountable to the central government”, but stopped short of saying the chief executive should take the role.
But two pro-Beijing figures said this would need an amendment of local legislation, which may be difficult to pass, while a scholar said there were problems in empowering anyone to disqualify popularly elected lawmakers.
Li Fei, chairman of the Basic Law Committee, dropped a hint on Monday by saying: “The oath administrator should be someone who can represent the Hong Kong SAR government and also be accountable to the central government.”
Li said some members of the National People’s Congress Standing Committee had noted that the chief executive oversees the oaths of all principal officials, but he did not draw the conclusion that the leader should also take care of lawmakers’ oaths.
Beijing’s top legislative panel handed down a decision on Monday in a bid to keep pro-independence voices out of Hong Kong’s legislature. It interpreted an article of the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, in relation to the oath-taking of lawmakers and other public officials.
The ruling said a person had to be “sincere” and read out the prescribed oath “accurately” and “completely” in swearing allegiance to Hong Kong as part of China. Those who deliberately failed to comply would face disqualification.
The oath administrator would determine the validity of the oaths and no arrangement should be made for a retaking if the initial oath is deemed to be invalid.
Before the ruling, the government and two localist lawmakers – who had their oaths rejected for insulting China – were arguing before a local court whether it was the Legco president, the lawmakers or the court that had the power to invalidate their oaths.
Lau Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Beijing might consider the chief executive the most appropriate person to do the job, but this would require amendments to the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, which says it is the Legco clerk’s responsibility.
“But it would be very difficult to secure enough support for amending the ordinance,” he said. “Even some pro-establishment lawmakers may not back the move, let alone pan-democrats.”
Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan agreed that letting the chief executive oversee lawmakers’ swearing-in would “leave an impression that the executive branch interferes in the legislature”.
Political scientist Ma Ngok said the provision regarding the oath administrator “is the most serious illegal structure” in the interpretation as it would give too much power to the administrator. A person in that position should not be able to disqualify a popularly elected lawmaker, he said.