Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Officials non-committal on whether disqualified lawmakers allowed to stand in Hong Kong by-elections

Undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs Andy Chan says decision down to electoral officers, but pan-democrats want assurances

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 7:47pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 04 January, 2018, 7:55pm

Hong Kong’s opposition pan-democrat lawmakers on Thursday took aim at the government for failing to state clearly whether their allies stripped by a court of their seats would be allowed to contest by-elections in March.

Andy Chan Shui-fu, undersecretary for constitutional and mainland affairs, would only say that the electoral officers in charge would “have the full power” to decide on candidacy issues “according to the law”.

The by-elections on March 11 are to fill four seats vacated by Nathan Law Kwun-chung, Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang, Yau Wai-ching and Edward Yiu Chung-yim, who were disqualified last year for improper oaths of office.

The seats are in the Hong Kong Island, New Territories East and Kowloon West constituencies, as well as the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape functional constituency which represents professionals in that sector in the city’s legislature.

Yiu is one of several pan-democrats seeking to win the camp’s endorsement to run in Kowloon West. But some pan-democrats, including legal sector representative Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party, have expressed concern over whether the government would have Yiu’s candidacy invalidated, even though the law does not forbid a disqualified lawmaker from standing for election again.

At a Legislative Council meeting on Thursday, Kwok asked: “If a person disqualified by the courts is running again ... under what circumstances would he or she lose the right to stand for election?”

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But undersecretary Chan only answered that “in accordance with the law, the returning officer would have the full power to make an independent decision. He or she will consider all relevant factors ... and seek legal advice from the Department of Justice if needed.”

Chan added that factors under consideration would include whether the hopeful had signed a declaration to confirm he or she agreed that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, and whether that signing was in line with his or her past acts or remarks.

The declaration was introduced in the run-up to the 2016 Legco elections, but was strongly criticised by pan-democrats at the time as “unnecessary”. Some candidates advocating Hong Kong’s separation from China had their candidacies invalidated even though they had signed the declaration, while other pan-democrats who refused to sign it were still approved by electoral officers and won at the polls.

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At Thursday’s Legco meeting, Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Chan had failed to address concerns on the issue.

“Is it possible that returning officers in different constituencies would make decisions inconsistent with each other?” Lam asked.

Chan argued that was unlikely to happen as the justice department would be the only body responsible for offering legal advice to the officers.