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Legislative Council oath-taking saga

How lawsuit to unseat four lawmakers could change balance of power in Hong Kong legislature

Court of First Instance set to rule on disqualification suit over oath-taking controversy

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 1:18pm
UPDATED : Friday, 14 July, 2017, 3:06pm

At 3pm on Friday, Hong Kong’s Court of First Instance will rule on a disqualification case involving four opposition lawmakers over their oaths of office.

This is the second batch of lawsuits the previous administration has mounted in a bid to unseat pan-democrats amid the rise of localist ideas in the city. Two localist legislators-elect were ousted in the previous round.

But in the most recent case, none all of the four lawmakers advocate independence, although two of them have raised the idea of self-determination for the city. Their disqualifications could hurt the strength of the democratic bloc in the legislature.

What is the case about?

Former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, together with Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung, sued “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim in October after they took their oaths at the swearing-in ceremony at the Legislative Council last year.

Although the Legco president had accepted their oaths, the government accused the four of intentionally failing to swear “solemnly and sincerely”, and of altering the form and substance of the prescribed oath by “embedding” political messages and staging “theatrical performances”.

The lawsuits followed another set mounted by the former chief executive and Yuen, which successfully led to the disqualification of Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching over their anti-China antics. The duo had pledged allegiance to the “Hong Kong nation” during their swearing-in.

The four lawmakers currently facing disqualification earlier called the lawsuits “political persecution” by Leung, accusing him of wanting to score points with Beijing to seek a second term. Leung Chun-ying has since stepped down, but his successor, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, has not promised to give up an appeal should the government lose the case.

How exactly did the four lawmakers alter their oaths?

“Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, a four-time lawmaker, read his oath holding a yellow umbrella – a symbol of the Occupy Central protests in 2014 – and chanted anti-Communist Party slogans. He also ripped up a copy of the controversial political reform framework decreed by Beijing the same year.

Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a former Occupy Central student leader, raised his tone when reciting the word “Republic” in “People’s Republic of China”, as if asking a question when pledging his allegiance. He also quoted late Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, saying: “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.”

Edward Yiu Chung-yim, a professor, added a sentence to his oath: “I will uphold procedural justice in Hong Kong, fight for genuine universal suffrage and serve the city’s sustainable development.”

Lau Siu-lai, a social science lecturer, read her oath in slow motion: she paused for six seconds between every word of her oath, then later wrote on Facebook that she had meant to render the vow “meaningless”.

While Law and Lau have called for self-determination for Hong Kong, Leung and Yiu have not.

How is Beijing’s influence involved?

The previous administration sued the four lawmakers two days after an appeal court upheld a lower court’s decision to disqualify Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching, applying Beijing’s controversial interpretation of the Basic Law to require oaths to be taken “sincerely” and “accurately”.

The interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee was issued before the lower court delivered its judgment in the first case and was seen as a blow to the city’s judicial independence.

What political implications could this case have?

Three of the four legislators – Leung, Lau and Law – were directly elected by geographical constituencies. If any two of these three are stripped of their seats, the pan-democratic camp will lose its 17-16 majority in the geographical constituencies.

Their existing edge is essential when it comes to voting down motions the bloc opposes, such as blocking the pro-establishment camp from changing Legco’s rule book to restrict filibustering. Pan-democrats have been using stalling tactics to drag out debates on controversial bills.