Protests shut down electoral commission briefing as Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung disqualified from Legco elections
Returning officer states she doesn’t believe Leung genuinely changed his previous stance favouring independence
Hong Kong’s election watchdog on Tuesday rejected localist leader Edward Leung Tin-kei’s bid to run in next month’s Legislative Council polls, setting off a chorus of complaints about political screening of candidates and raising doubts about the watchdog’s neutrality.
With Leung’s rejection, a total of six candidates for the September 4 polls have had their nominations invalidated by returning officers over their advocacy of the city’s independence from China.
There were chaotic scenes at a briefing for validated candidates by the Electoral Affairs Commission on Tuesday night as protesting pan-democratic and localist hopefuls disrupted the session. The commission was forced to cut short the briefing, and police guarding the venue removed the protesters.
As protesters tried to storm the speakers’ stage, Demosisto chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung was seen being pushed to the ground. He later sought medical treatment at United Christian Hospital for leg injuries and planned to file a police report, suspecting he had been manhandled by a plainclothes officer.
The election commission condemned the “violent acts” of the protesters.
Leung, a member of Hong Kong Indigenous, was expected to have a high chance of winning a seat, considering his strong performance in a Legco by-election in February. He slammed the rejection of his candidacy as “a decision made under rule of man, not rule of law”.
“The returning officer doesn’t want to believe what I say in black and white and concluded that she simply doesn’t believe that I am genuine in what I say,” he said. “Is she a worm in my mind?”
He went on to claim the elections were being “manipulated” by the government, and that he would submit an election petition to challenge the rejection the day after the Legco polls.
He later went into the briefing as a guest and swore at election commissioner Barnabas Fung Wah as he spoke.
Leung, a philosophy student at the University of Hong Kong philosophy, openly advocated the city’s independence until last week, when he was forced to clarify his stance before his candidacy was decided.
He made a complete U-turn to accept a controversial change to election rules and signed a “confirmation form” reinforcing his acceptance of Hong Kong’s status as an inalienable part of China. The form is an additional requirement to the standard declaration form to uphold the Basic Law.
What’s causing confusion is that 42 lists of candidates from the pan-democrat and localist camps have been approved even though they refused to sign the new form.
In a 12-page reply, returning officer Cora Ho Lai-sheung, with the advice of the Department of Justice, attached media reports on Leung’s past remarks about independence and even his own Facebook posts. She included a transcript of remarks Leung had made at a press conference after signing the confirmation form.
“What Mr Leung means should be: in order to enter Legco, he would take whatever means, including stopping advocating Hong Kong independence; and once he becomes a lawmaker, he will continue to advocate independence,” she wrote.
“I therefore do not trust Mr Leung genuinely changed his previous stance for independence.”
A government spokesman denied political censorship, insisting that returning officers were acting lawfully to ensure the elections would be run in accordance with the Basic Law.
The justice department said it had taken into account candidates’ right to stand for elections when advising returning officers.
The Civic Party condemned the disqualification of the six pro-independence candidates, calling it “political screening” and accusing the election watchdog of deviating from the principle of political neutrality.
Moderate Tik Chi-yuen, who is also running for Legco, said he was shocked at Leung’s rejection and urged the watchdog to reconsider.
But Tam Yiu-chung of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong said he respected the rejections because legislators were required by law to uphold the mini-constitution.
The election watchdog was also accused of acting arbitrarily over validated candidates’ promotional materials.
While it approved localist Lau Siu-lai’s leaflets, it still has not given the go ahead to the brochures of two other candidates who are her allies, even though all of them contain controversial phrases such as “self-determination”.
“It’s very clear from this that [the commission] is engaging in political screening and that they are picking on certain candidates,” she said.
Additional reporting by Fred Lai and Ng Kang-chung