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Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Pro-Beijing politicians decry Hong Kong by-elections date clash with China’s ‘Two Sessions’

New representatives will be elected to replace lawmakers stripped of their seats in last year’s oath-taking saga, but some pro-government figures may be forced to choose between staying in Hong Kong to canvass votes or heading to the capital

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 December, 2017, 12:38pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:19pm

Heavyweight pro-government politicians in Hong Kong have hit out at electoral officials over their decision to hold by-elections on March 11, accusing them of failing to consider the Chinese political calendar by staging the polls when they need to attend two major annual gatherings in Beijing.

The by-elections are to fill seats in Hong Kong’s legislature left vacant by last year’s oath-taking saga, during which lawmakers were disqualified by the city’s High Court for improper oaths of office.

The government announced on Friday that the polls would be held on the second Sunday of next March to fill four of the seats, which were previously held by legislators from the city’s opposition pan-democratic camp.

But their rivals in the pro-Beijing bloc were not happy on Friday that the date for the by-elections clashed with China’s “Two Sessions” – the annual meetings of the National People’s Congress, the national legislature, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top advisory body.

“It is an inappropriate arrangement, as the top legislature will be meeting,” said Ip Kwok-him, a Hong Kong deputy to the NPC and a member of the Executive Council that advises the city’s leader on policy. “It is a big question why the Electoral Affairs Commission considered this timing.”

Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, the city’s largest pro-establishment party, said electoral officials should follow other Chinese cities and take into account the Two Sessions in their planning.

“The date reflects that some officials are not familiar with Chinese political traditions,” she said.

The March 11 date presents a problem for the pro-Beijing camp as it means many major political figures will be in Beijing and so will be unable to canvass for their poll candidates.

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Ip, along with another veteran pro-Beijing politician, Tam Yiu-chung, said they may consider flying back to Hong Kong to cast their votes.

The four seats are among six in the Legislative Council left empty after six pan-democrat lawmakers

were ousted for taking their oaths of office in ways the court later ruled unconstitutional. They were stripped of their positions after the government initiated legal proceedings against them.

The March by-elections are to fill the seats formerly held by Demosisto’s Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Youngspiration’s Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, and academic Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who won in the September 2016 Legislative Council elections.

The seats of Law, Yau and Leung are for three geographical constituencies – Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West and New Territories East – while Yiu represented the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency.

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The contests for the two remaining vacant positions will take place further down the line. They are for seats in Kowloon West and New Territories East belonging to former lawmakers Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung. The pair have filed appeals against their disqualifications.

The objections to the March 11 date are the second time pro-Beijing politicians have expressed dissatisfaction with arrangements for the polls.

Starry Lee earlier said the government should arrange for by-elections for all six seats to be held on the same date to “save public money”.

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But pan-democrats demanded Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor arrange the elections separately to avoid one of the two seats in both Kowloon West and New Territories East falling into the hands of their rivals.

In light of voting patterns in the Legco elections a year ago, the three geographical seats should be a sure win for the city’s pro-democracy bloc, but only if they can concentrate their support in those areas.

The government on Friday said the Electoral Affairs Commission had arranged the election on March 11 after “considering relevant factors”.

“The government will fully cooperate with the commission’s preparation work to ensure the Legco by-elections are conducted according to the law in an open, fair and honest way,” a spokesperson said.