Rapid legal review required after village election ban for lawmaker
- If Eddie Chu appeals against the decision to stop him running on the grounds he ‘implicitly’ supports independence, the government had better be clear on the rules with the possibility of more disputes ahead
By banning legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick from running in the rural village elections, the Hong Kong government has made it abundantly clear that those in favour of independence or self-determination have no place in public office. Politically correct as it is, the move has raised concerns as to whether Beijing’s red line on unity is being stretched too far. The government must be able to show this is not the case if it is challenged in court.
Indeed, officials should study whether there is need for clearer guidelines or legislative amendments in light of the circumstances and Beijing’s interpretation of the relevant requirement in 2016.
Elected with a localist platform in the Legislative Council polls two years ago, Chu’s support of the right of others to peacefully advocate for independence as an option to self-determination has always been clear. That is why the returning officer banned him from standing in village representative polls, saying he “implicitly” supports independence. But the lawmaker accused the government of moving the red line, saying the ban has broadened to those who do not object to others pursuing independence.
In question is whether the requirement for public officers to uphold the Basic Law when taking their oaths of office under Article 104 can be used to screen out those deemed politically unacceptable in rural elections. Given Legco aspirants are already required to pledge allegiance to the Basic Law, it seems only natural that all government-run elections will be bound by the same rule. But opponents argue that Article 104 only specifies the chief executive, principal officials, executive councillors, lawmakers, judges and other members of the judiciary. Elections at the district council and rural level should therefore be excluded, they say.
Defending the returning officer’s decision, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said it was based on the local electoral law rather than the Basic Law. Under Section 24 of the Rural Representative Election Ordinance, a person is not validly nominated as a candidate unless the nomination form includes a declaration to the effect that they will uphold the Basic Law.
Lam said the requirement was the same as that for Legco polls, adding that it had been upheld by the court in a previous legal challenge. She also made it clear that the government had no plan to oust Chu from Legco, despite calls from some pro-government figures, however it would study whether it was necessary to rationalise the law in light of recent court rulings and Beijing’s interpretation regarding oath-taking. Given the government’s determination to reject independence supporters from running for public office, there may well be more legal disputes ahead. It would do well for officials to speed up the review.