Why Hong Kong’s Beijing loyalists don’t want democracy activists kicked out of elections
Alarm rises that government might end up helping opposition politicians win seats
Pro-establishment heavyweights, including top advisers to Hong Kong’s leader, have challenged the justification for any move by the government to ban two pro-democracy activists from running in the Legislative Council by-election in March.
While some of them fear it may end up helping opposition politicians win seats, the pan-democrats also warned that the potential disqualification of the two candidates from their camp could have far-reaching implications as it would be tantamount to political vetting of Legco polls by the government.
The eligibility of Agnes Chow Ting and Edward Yiu Chung-yim to run in the March 11 by-election is currently the subject of much speculation and uncertainty.
Pro-Beijing constitutional experts argue that Chow’s candidacy is at risk as her party, Demosisto, has backed the idea of “self-determination” for Hong Kong when all candidates must declare they accept the city as an inalienable part of China.
Yiu’s eligibility is unclear as he was among six pan-democrats stripped of their Legco seats last year for improper oaths of office. They were kicked out of the legislature by the city’s courts shortly after the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, China’s top legislative body, interpreted the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to disqualify them.
As both camps set about rethinking their election strategies to cater for the possibility of the two disqualifications, the pan-democrats on Friday also turned up the heat on justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah for turning down a request to meet them over the issue.
The beleaguered justice chief, who is embroiled in a scandal over illegal alterations to her properties, has referred the opposition camp to Solicitor General Wesley Wong Wai-chung instead.
“We would say to the secretary for justice: do your job,” said Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector in Legco. “The secretary for justice, having advised the returning officers in the upcoming elections, has the responsibility and indeed the duty to explain to the public and to us legislative councillors what is the legal advice that she has given to returning officers on the eligibility of candidates.”
Media reports on Friday cited sources as saying Yiu’s bid could be rejected by the government on the grounds that the NPCSC ruling that contributed to his disqualification should be applied to the entire term of the current legislature.
But former Bar Association chairman Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the Executive Council which advises the city’s leader, suggested that neither Beijing’s interpretation nor the court judgment offered the legal basis for banning someone from running.
“The legal perspective that [Beijing and the judges] were concerned with at that time was the legal requirement for someone to take office as lawmaker ...These people’s right to stand for election was not touched upon,” he said.
University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming also said he could not see how Yiu and Chow, having fulfilled all legal requirements, could be barred from the polls.
The pan-democrats have plans to field alternate candidates – Au Nok-hin on Hong Kong Island and Ramon Yuen Hoi-man in Kowloon West – if Yiu or Chow fail to qualify before nominations close on Monday.
Tong warned that if the rulings dealing with the legal requirements for assuming public office were extended to apply to a person’s right to stand for election, it could be ruled by the courts as unconstitutional.
Currently, pro-establishment district councillors Vincent Cheng Wing-shun and Judy Chan Ka-pui, of the New People’s Party (NPP), have signed up to run in the Kowloon West and Hong Kong Island constituencies, respectively.
NPP chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, also an executive councillor, said she did not want to see anyone disqualified.
“If Chow and Yiu are disqualified, I’d like to know the reason why,” she said.
If Chow were banned from the race, Ip said, Chan and her team would “need to adjust” their strategy to focus more on political issues rather than district matters.
Liberal Party lawmaker Felix Chung Kwok-pan was also worried that the disqualification of any pro-democracy candidate would only trigger a backlash and eventually favour the opposition camp in the polls.
Dennis Kwok warned that it would deal a huge blow to Hong Kong.
“This would mean a serious detrimental effect on the whole election system in Hong Kong. They are effectively saying the returning officers will have the power to select who gets to run for Legco,” he said. “That is a power unknown to Hong Kong people.”
Chow’s disqualification could also mean other lawmakers, such as Eddie Chu Hoi-dick who has also called for self-determination, might be unseated too, he suggested.
Opposition lawmaker Raymond Chan Chi-chuen of People Power said Legco elections provided one of the very limited occasions for Hongkongers to choose their leaders through “one man, one vote”.
“The disqualification ... means that candidates would have to be politically vetted by the government beforehand,” he said. “Does the government really want to destroy the election and legal systems of Hong Kong by a wrong political decision?”