The decision to unseat four pan-democrat lawmakers has sent political shock waves across Hong Kong, and not only because it was made without going through the local courts as previously. In response, opposition lawmakers have vowed to resign en masse in protest at the move. The outcome is hardly conducive to stability and has a far-reaching impact on political development. The four risked being ousted when the Legislative Council was extended by another year. They were barred from standing in the now-delayed September elections after their lobbying for foreign sanctions against the government in the wake of last year’s protests was deemed inconsistent with the requirement to uphold the Basic Law. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Wednesday it would be illogical and politically unethical for them to stay on, referring to the anomaly of their oath of office and the election ban. It had nothing to do with the recent filibustering in Legco, she added. Statements issued by mainland authorities further stressed the importance of “patriots forming the main body of administrators”, a reference used by late paramount leader Deng Xiaoping. The original “through train” for all members was seen as a positive gesture to ease tensions stemming from the imposition of the national security law. It has proved to be just wishful thinking, as Lam conceded that the fate of the four had always been on the government agenda. Having explored all local laws to deal with the matter, but to no avail, Beijing was asked to step in, she said. Lam stressed the situation was unique. She said the National People’s Congress Standing Committee had absolute legal authority to rule on the issue, adding it did not mean opposition members could be arbitrarily ousted by the government in future without going through the courts. Be that as it may, this is the first time lawmakers have been disqualified without taking that route. The Basic Law has clear provisions on the removal of lawmakers. Wednesday’s decision makes disqualification immediate when acts in relation to advocating independence, seeking foreign interference, refusing to recognise the exercise of national sovereignty and other acts of jeopardising national security are confirmed in accordance with the law. How the decision will be applied in future remains to be seen. It is important that the rule of law be fully preserved. Who are Hong Kong’s ousted Legco members, and what exactly did they do? The prospect of Legco operating for a year without opposition may disturb many who would like to see some effective checks and balances. Lam does not seem to be bothered by the planned resignations, saying Legco would not become just a rubber stamp. The city cannot afford further divisions. How the situation now evolves will be closely followed by all sides, here and abroad.