At least 10 pan-democrat or independent hopefuls challenged a change to election rules, despite the risk of being disqualified, as the nomination period for the Legislative Council polls in September opened on Saturday. The controversial change targeting independence advocates required that candidates, as well as making the standard declaration to uphold the Basic Law, must also have to sign a new form to confirm a clear understanding of the mini-constitution – mainly concerning Hong Kong’s status as a special administrative region of China. Refusal to sign could risk disqualification. Pan-democrats complained that the new rules amounted to political censorship and planned to meet the chief of the city’s election watchdog over the matter on Tuesday. Submitting nominations for his bid in Hong Kong Island, Democratic Party district councillor Ted Hui Chi-fung said he would not sign the new declaration until their concerns were addressed. “The returning officer asked me to sign and submit the new form in two days ... but he could not explain the consequences if I refused to do so,” Hui said. Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Raymond Tam Chi-yuen denied political censorship and said candidate’s refusal to sign the new form would be a factor in deciding whether to approve their candidacy after the nomination period ends on July 29. Electoral officers do not have the power to invalidate a candidate’s nomination simply because he did not sign the new form Speaking before a forum in Hong Kong, Basic Law Committee member and Peking University law professor Rao Geping weighed into the matter and said the Hong Kong government did the right thing. Rao said although the Basic Law did not explicitly prohibit independence advocates from running for Legco, “since the mini-constitution affirmed Hong Kong’s legal status, how could it allow a lawmaker to advocate the city’s separation from the nation?” But University of Hong Kong law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting told the Post that candidates do not need to sign the form. “Electoral officers do not have the power to invalidate a candidate’s nomination simply because he did not sign the new form,” Tai said. Five pan-democrats also refused to sign the form on Saturday after submitting their application for the race for five District Council (Second) seats, the so-called “super seats”, as they will be elected by 3.47 million voters citywide. ‘Accept Hong Kong is part of China or you can’t run in Legco elections’ They are lawmaker Leung Yiu-chung, Civic Party’s Sumly Chan Yuen-sum, Democrat James To Kun-sun and Roy Kwong Chun-yu, as well as Kalvin Ho Kai-ming from Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood. Ho’s party colleague Tam Kwok-kiu also did not sign the form after filing his bid in Kowloon West. Hui’s party colleague Lam Cheuk-ting, Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung Tin-kei and independent district councillor Christine Fong Kwok-shan, all running in New Territories East, also refused to sign the new declaration. Fong criticised the government for “failing to explain the form’s legal basis”. Leung said: “The returning officer said if I do not hand in the form after July 18, he will seek advice from the department of justice before he decides whether my nomination is valid.” But Hui’s localist rival on Hong Kong Island, Civic Passion’s Alvin Cheng Kam-mun signed the declarations as he believes it just meant that he “acknowledged the existence of articles” regarding China’s sovereignty in the Basic Law. Legco aspirants warned: criminal sanctions possible if you fail to sign new declaration accepting Hong Kong is part of China “I still support Hong Kong independence, and if they take legal action, so be it,” Cheng said. Beijing-loyalist candidates who joined the race on the Island included New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee; Horace Cheung Kwok-kwan, vice-chairman of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong; and Federation of Trade Unions’ lawmaker Kwok Wai-keung. Ip’s party colleague Eunice Yung Hoi-yan will be running in New Territories East, while DAB chairwoman Starry Lee Wai-king and her deputy Holden Chow Ho-ding joined the race for the “super seats”. They all signed the declarations, but Ip said that the government should explain the consequences more clearly for those who refused to sign. The Registration and Electoral Office received a total of 33 nomination forms on Saturday. That included 14 tickets in the five geographical constituencies, seven tickets for “super seats” and 12 candidates contesting the functional constituencies.