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Legislative Council of Hong Kong

Hong Kong electoral officials ‘may have exceeded scope of duty’ by barring candidates, former Legco head Jasper Tsang says

He says these civil servants appointed by the Electoral Affairs Commission for the one-off posts were supposed to do only administrative work

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 February, 2018, 1:19pm

Electoral officials in Hong Kong might have exceeded the scope of their duties when they barred three opposition candidates from a coming by-election, a former Legislative Council president said on Friday as he called for a review of the rules.

Jasper Tsang Yok-sing’s remarks came a day after Britain and Canada weighed in on the row over the disqualification of activist Agnes Chow Ting. Two localists, Ventus Lau Wing-hong and James Chan Kwok-keung, were also banned from the March poll.

Returning officers had barred Chow from running on the grounds that her party, Demosisto, advocated self-determination for the city, while they found that Lau and Chan had not genuinely changed their stance on Hong Kong independence.

“When the officers judge the candidates’ eligibility to stand for election based on their political views or advocacy of their political affiliations, they may have exceeded the expected scope of their duties,” Tsang said.

The pro-Beijing veteran added that the returning officers, who were civil servants appointed by the Electoral Affairs Commission for the one-off posts, were supposed to do administrative work, such as ensuring candidates had properly submitted the required documents.

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He said the government should review electoral laws and come up with clear principles stating explicitly grounds for disqualifying candidates. “The sooner there are clearer principles for regulation the better,” Tsang said.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a senior counsel and executive councillor, expressed similar views but said there was no way to spell out all possible scenarios for disqualifications.

He suggested transferring the job of deciding the eligibility of candidates from the hands of returning officers to retired judges.

“The credibility of the decision-makers plays a key role. It would be better if the job is done by more credible individuals or committees,” he said, adding that as the nomination period lasted only about 10 days, it was not suitable for the court to step in.

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Meanwhile, the Network of Young Democratic Asians – an alliance of young individuals and activists in Asia – issued a protest statement to the Hong Kong government over the disqualifications, which it strongly condemned as “unjust”.

It said the incidents revealed “the disturbing fact that Hong Kong people are caught in a new, authoritative political order”.

Seven youth organisations from the Philippines, Africa and Myanmar had cosigned the statement.