Any further delay to Hong Kong by-elections ‘risks favouring pro-Beijing camp’, government warned

City’s leader Carrie Lam says there will be ‘no political manoeuvering ’ but pan-democrats fear their opponents would gain an advantage in certain constituencies if all six vacant seats contested at the same time

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 6:28pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 August, 2017, 10:16pm

Legislative Council by-elections are typically called between one and four months after a seat is vacated, but it has already been nine months since Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching were disqualified and this is why polls must be held soon, pan-democrats say.

Further delays would risk the government being seen as “favouring” the pro-establishment camp, they warned, following a court ruling on Friday that put an end to an appeal by the two disqualified lawmakers.

The Court of Final Appeal rejected a final bid by pro-independence lawmakers, Baggio Leung and Yau, to have their Legco seats reinstated after they were ousted by the High Court last November for taking their oaths improperly.

Four more pan-democrats – Lau Siu-lai, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Edward Yiu Chung-yim – were disqualified last month.

The city’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said the government will arrange by-elections to fill Leung and Yau’s seats “according to the law”.

“There will not be any special political manoeuvre to achieve a specific result,” she said.

But pan-democrats remained cautious as Secretary of Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen had previously suggested by-elections to fill “the six Legco seats would be arranged after all legal procedures were settled”. This sparked worries from critics that the pro-establishment camp would gain an advantage in by-elections in certain constituencies.

One such district is Kowloon West, which has been left with only four Legco representatives since Yau and another disqualified lawmaker Lau Siu-lai were ousted. One of those remaining, non-affiliated pan-democrat Claudia Mo Man-ching, said the government should hold a by-election to fill Leung and Yau’s seats first – even if Lau eventually decides not to appeal.

Mo said that given the pan-democratic camp’s larger vote share in the general election last year, they would enjoy an advantage if a by-election were held to fill a single seat. But if both Yau and Lau’s vacancies in Kowloon West were filled at the same time, one of the seats would likely go to one of their pro-Beijing rivals.

“We would have to win 90 per cent of the votes to win two seats in a by-election,” Mo said.

The four disqualified in July must decide by September 11 whether they are seeking to appeal, but only Leung has so far indicated he would do so.

A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs on Friday said the Electoral Affairs Commission will consider factors such as arranging venues and use of public money before deciding the date of any by-election.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung agreed that a by-election should be held as soon as possible, but said the government should be aiming to fill all the seats vacated by ex-legislators who are not seeking to challenge the court’s ruling. Choy suggested that if Lau is not seeking to appeal, the government has little choice but to fill her seat together with Yau’s.

“That’s more reasonable in terms of the use of public money,” Choy said.

Lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin, from the Beijing-friendly Federation of Trade Unions, also said the by-elections should depend on whether the unseated lawmakers plan to appeal.

In October 1998, Dr Tang Siu-tong regained his seat representing the Regional Council with 28 votes at a by-election, a month after the High Court ruled his May victory void.

In February last year, a by-election was held to fill the seat vacated by Ronny Tong Ka-wah, four months after his resignation took effect in October 2015.