Teresa Cheng

Not for Hong Kong justice chief to decide if ousted lawmakers can run in by-elections, pan-dems say

Assertion follows embattled Teresa Cheng’s statement she would look into legal issues of disqualified Edward Yiu, who triumphed in recent primary

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 7:32am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 February, 2018, 4:26pm

Hong Kong’s justice minister should play no role in deciding whether disqualified lawmakers are allowed to run in the city’s upcoming legislative by-elections, pan-democrats said on Wednesday.

Their assertion came after the embattled Secretary for Justice, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, said on Sunday she was looking into legal issues involving Edward Yiu Chung-yim.

Yiu, one of six pro-democracy lawmakers disqualified last year for improper oath taking, is eyeing a comeback, having signed up to run in the Kowloon West constituency by-election set for March 11.

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The former architectural sector representative officially handed in his nomination on Saturday and signed a declaration that he would uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and accept Hong Kong as an inalienable part of China. However, his candidacy has yet to be confirmed.

“The justice secretary, who is a political appointee, has a conflict of interest in the issue, as there are ongoing appeals cases concerning the disqualification of lawmakers,” legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said on Wednesday. Kwok was referring to appeals lodged by Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, who were both ousted from the Legislative Council last year.

Cheng is facing her own controversy as lawmakers have urged her to explain illegal structures found at her residential properties.

Kwok accused the Electoral Affairs Commission of failing to state any clear standards for nominees’ eligibility.

In response, the commission reiterated it had no jurisdiction or role to play in the nomination process apart from providing support to the returning officers, who would make the decision. While these officers are appointed by the commission, they are civil servants.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu urged the government to quell doubts about how eligibility is determined to ensure a fair election.

But constitutional affairs minister Patrick Nip Tak-kuen on Wednesday rejected worries that the justice minister faced a conflict of interest in the matter.

“It is a safe and sound approach under the current mechanism,” Nip said. “The returning officer would work in accordance with the law and ask for relevant information from the nominees and seek legal advice from the Department of Justice when needed.”

Nip said he could not comment further as the nomination period was ongoing.

Meanwhile, the pan-democrats reached a consensus on a backup candidate in the event that Yiu – who came first in the primary with a landslide victory – is barred. Infighting in the camp has come to light between traditional pan-democrats and localists who support greater autonomy for the city.

The camp agreed that the Democratic Party’s Ramon Yuen Hoi-man, who came third in the primary, would be the backup. Yet Yuen’s bid must still be endorsed by his party on Thursday night.

The runner-up in the primary, veteran politician Frederick Fung Kin-kee, had claimed his withdrawal was prompted by pressure from the localists.

The pro-Beijing camp has endorsed Vincent Cheng Wing-shun for the race.

On Wednesday night it emerged that Yiu and Demosisto’s Agnes Chow Ting had written an open letter to electoral officers urging them to confirm their candidacies as soon as possible. Chow has signed up to run on Hong Kong Island, but is at risk of being barred over her calls for “self-determination” for the city.

The pair also raised concerns about the role of the justice department, arguing it had a conflict of interest and its legal advice should therefore not be taken into account.

Chow would run against Judy Chan Ka-pui.