Three rejections and multiple deviations mark Hong Kong Legislative Council swearing-in
Two Youngspiration election winners and one pan-democrat have their oaths rejected, but 11 others add their own wording and face no repercussions
A blue banner bearing the words “Hong Kong is not China” took centre stage as two localist lawmakers used it as a protest prop to pledge loyalty to the “Hong Kong nation” at the opening of the new Legislative Council on Wednesday.
The pair, and a third lawmaker who inserted his own words into the official script, saw their oaths rejected. Four localist and seven pan-democratic legislators protesting similarly played it safer by either shouting slogans or making extra statements before or after taking their oaths as the city’s 70 lawmakers were sworn in.
The oaths of Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chun-hang, as well as that of Professionals Guild’s Edward Yiu Chung-yim, were declared invalid by Legco secretary-general Kenneth Chen Wei-on who oversaw the ceremony before Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen was elected president.
Chen ruled that the trio could not participate or vote in Legco meetings and the election of their president on Wednesday afternoon, but his decision was challenged by pan-democrats and localists. University of Hong Kong principal law lecturer Eric Cheung Tat-ming also questioned his action.
Professor Lau Siu-kai, a former top policy adviser to the government, declined to comment on Chen’s ruling. But echoing pro-establishment lawmakers’ criticisms, Lau warned of a backlash from Beijing over the display of the “Hong Kong is not China” banner.
“It showed that the localists are eager to show their rejection of China in a way that wouldn’t directly contravene the city’s mini-constitution Basic Law ... I think the central government would be very unhappy about it,” he told the Post.
The legislature’s first meeting started at 11am on Wednesday, and there was not too much drama until Yiu, representing the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, took his oath in Cantonese.
After stating “being a member of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region of the People’s Republic of China”, Yiu added: “I will uphold procedural justice in Hong Kong, fight for genuine universal suffrage and serve the city’s sustainable development” before he moved on to swear to uphold the Basic Law.
After Chen asked him to take the oath again, Yiu again added his own phrases at the end of the official wording. Chen then said he “could not oversee the oath taking” for Yiu and asked the newly-elected lawmaker to return to his seat.
About 15 minutes later, it was Sixtus Leung’s turn. Instead of sticking to the official oath, Leung vowed in English to “pay earnest efforts in keeping guard over the interest of the Hong Kong nations” (sic).
Leung also draped a blue banner bearing the words: “Hong Kong is not China” over his shoulders.
When Leung read out the official portion of the oath, he pronounced China as “Chee-na”, the derogatory pronunciation used during Japanese occupation of the city.
That led Chen to tell Leung that he was unable to approve his oath.
Then when it was Yau’s turn, the 25-year-old not only pledged allegiance to “the Hong Kong nation” in English and displayed the “Hong Kong is not China” banner on the table in front of her, but also mispronounced “People’s Republic of China” as “people’s re-f****** of Chee-na” three times in all three mentions of the phrase in the official oath.
Chen refused to accept her oath. “Your display gives me reason to doubt whether you understand your duties. I don’t have the power to oversee your oath-taking,” he said.
Four localists and seven pan-democrats added their own opening remarks or used unsual ways to take their oaths – but Chen did not challenge them.
Among them, localist Lau Siu-lai caused the greatest stir as she spent eight minutes delivering her oath, pausing five to seven seconds between every Chinese word.
Independent lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, who queried Legco presidential hopeful Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen’s nationality, made this declaration after taking his oath: “Democratic self-determination! Tyranny must perish one day! Objection to Leung Kwan-yuen’s presidency!”
Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai delivered a speech at the beginning of his oath explaining why he would take his oath properly.
Demosisto’s 24-year-old chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung, the youngest ever Hong Kong lawmaker, was the last legislator to take an oath.
He made a short speech preceding his oath. In a reference to the government warning on Tuesday that those who refused to take their oath properly could lose their seats, Law quoted Mahatma Gandhi in saying: “You can chain me, you can torture me, you can even destroy this body, but you will never imprison my mind.”
As he proceeded with his oath and came to the word “republic”, he changed the tone of his voice, as if asking a question. “ I swear allegiance to ... the People’s Republic of China?” he said.
On the sidelines of the meeting, the Youngspiration duo declined to say if they would repeat the same wording if they were asked to take the oath again next week.
Sixtus Leung said “We will see what else we have in our arsenal.” His colleague Yau insisted that “it was my accent” when asked if was inappropriate to use profanity during her oath.
In a statement, Yiu said it was regrettable that Chen refused to accept his oath. Yiu said he only added the phrases after finishing the oath, and he would ask Legco president Andrew Leung to let him take his oath again.
Under the Oaths and Declarations Ordinance, any person “who declines or neglects to take an oath duly requested” shall vacate or be disqualified from office.
But legal scholar Eric Cheung said Yiu, Yau and Sixtus Leung’s antics on Wednesday did not amount to “declining or neglecting” an oath-taking duly requested.
“Hong Kong is only a special administrative region of China,” Cheung said. “So I have much reservation if Chen was saying that [Yau and Leung] contravened the oath’s content simply because they showed a placard saying ‘Hong Kong is not China’.”
Nevertheless, he warned that the trio could lose their seats if they repeatedly failed to comply with the rules regarding oaths.
“If a lawmaker received a clear request that he ‘must take the oath according to the official wording this time’, and he still refuses or rejects the request ... he could be disqualified,” Cheung told the Post.
He added that to disqualify a lawmaker who declines or neglects to take an oath, someone would need to seek the a court declaration.
“It is more reasonable to leave it for the court to decide on the matter,” he added.