Legislative Council oath-taking saga

Agnes Chow’s Hong Kong self-determination calls ‘could get her barred from Legco by-election’

Local constitutional expert says young activist more likely to miss out on poll than disqualified lawmaker Edward Yiu

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 January, 2018, 9:36pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:22pm

Pro-democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting is more likely to be barred from the coming Legislative Council by-election than disqualified lawmaker Edward Yiu Chung-yim, an expert on the city’s constitutional affairs has said.

And it is Chow’s party’s mission for the city’s “self-determination” that causes the problem, Lau Siu-kai said.

Lau, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, a semi-official think tank, said: “The calls for self-determination are challenging the central government’s authority over Hong Kong, which is violating the Basic Law.”

He said Hongkongers have no right to determine the city’s political status. And in some eyes, self-determination is no different from advocating Hong Kong independence, Lau added.

Chow, 21 and a member of Demosisto, announced her bid to be the city’s youngest lawmaker ever on Saturday. She will run in the Hong Kong Island constituency, vacated by her disqualified party chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung.

Six Legco seats, including Law’s and Yiu’s, were vacated last year after a local court ruled in favour of the government’s bid to unseat the lawmakers for improper oaths of office.

It remains unclear if Chow and Yiu – who is set to run in Kowloon West – could pass the allegiance test required for the by-elections. All candidates have to sign a declaration that they will uphold the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and accept Hong Kong’s status as an inalienable part of China.

There is no way that the chief executive can tell you who can run and who cannot
Carrie Lam

Despite reports that Yiu may be barred from a comeback as the disqualification was meant for his whole term, Lau said he did not see any law barring him.

Commenting on the dispute, Starry Lee Wai-king, chairwoman of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, said candidates need to uphold the Basic Law, and must not “utilise the platform of Legco to advocate Hong Kong independence”.

The city’s leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor refused to pledge that Chow and Yiu would be allowed to run, saying that suggestion was equivalent to asking her to break the law.

“There is no way that the chief executive can tell you who can run and who cannot,” Lam said. She said candidacies are decided by the returning officer, who acts in accordance with the law, and legal opinion if needed.

But Eric Cheung Tat-ming, principal law lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, said he saw no legal grounds for the government to bar Chow or Yiu. He said the returning officer could not judge an entrant’s stance from his or her speech a long time ago, and that Chow had not been vocal in calls for independence. In Yiu’s case, he said local laws do not bar disqualified lawmakers from running.

Demosisto has prepared a “Plan B” by having Au Nok-hin, a former Democratic Party member, sign up for the race in case Chow is disqualified.

Au said the camp had prepared for the worst, but that he was not willing to see the government “incriminating” an entrant because they had expressed their opinions.

Four of the six empty seats are to be filled through the March 11 by-elections. The fate of the remaining two will be determined later, upon the outcome of their former incumbents’ legal appeals.

Neither Chow nor Yiu had officially entered by the end of Tuesday, the first day of nominations. Two people had signed up, including Judy Chan Ka-pui of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party, who will run against Chow on Hong Kong Island. Anti-Occupy activist Estella Chan Yuk-ngor will also run in New Territories East.

Not enough polling stations for surprise turnout at by-election primary, pro-democracy organisers say

The other two constituencies up for grabs in March are New Territories East and Yiu’s former seat representing the architectural functional constituency.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice refused to comment on whether Yiu could enter the race, saying any legal advice that the department gives to the returning officer is protected by legal professional privilege.

Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam