Legislative Council elections 2016

Let the courts decide on legality of screening Legco candidates

Controversial new rule has seen some pro-independence hopefuls disqualified, but that is no reason for others to take the law into their own hands

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 4:19am
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 August, 2016, 4:19am

There is no room for compromise when it comes to matters of sovereignty, as reflected in the government’s determination to block pro-independence candidates from running in next month’s Legislative Council polls. At least six aspirants have been barred as a result. Whether the decisions can stand the test of law remains to be seen. The ones who have been disqualified have vowed to seek a court review, adding uncertainty to the elections and the rule of law.

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The disqualifications were the result of substantial screening of candidates. The nominations were not just invalidated when aspirants refused to sign a new form promising to uphold the city’s status as an inalienable part of China. Even when such declarations were made, returning officers could still rule that nominees were not “genuine” in giving up their pro-independence stance, as in Edward Leung Tin-kei’s case. Adding to the confusion is the clearance for some pro-independence localists and pan-democrats to run, even though they did not sign the new declaration.

The controversy started when the new rule was introduced by the Electoral Affairs Commission just two days ahead of the start of the nomination period. Politically, Beijing and the Hong Kong government cannot tolerate pro-independence forces making use of the elections to advance their cause, not to mention allowing them to sit in the legislature. But barring them from standing raises questions over the promise of free and fair elections.

The decisions to bar some candidates are controversial. But any challenges should be handled according to established channels. A 22-year-old man was yesterday arrested by the police for allegedly making online threats against returning officers.

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Legco is part of the political establishment. Members swear to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the special administrative region when assuming office. Those advocating for independence are not adhering to the constitutional order laid down in the Basic Law. It has to be asked why, then, they seek to be part of the establishment.

Critics argue that the right for permanent residents to stand in elections is guaranteed in the Basic Law. There appear to be no restrictions other than age, foreign right of abode, years of residency and specific criminal convictions and sentencing. Whether there is a legal basis to screen out hopefuls based on their pro-independence stance will be a matter for the courts to decide.