Will activist duo be banned from by-elections? Pan-dems demand answers from beleaguered justice chief
About 10 lawmakers march to office of justice minister Teresa Cheng to ask why Agnes Chow and Edward Yiu have not been validated as candidates in March 11 polls
Hong Kong’s opposition lawmakers pulled the city’s embattled justice minister into the thick of another brewing issue on Thursday evening, when about 10 of them descended on her office and demanded to know why two pro-democracy activists had not been confirmed as candidates for the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections.
The pan-democrats had earlier failed to get a satisfactory answer from the government’s Registration and Electoral Office, on whether there was truth to media reports that the two activists could be barred from the March 11 polls.
Both have not had their candidacies confirmed, despite submitting the necessary applications.
One of them is 21-year-old Agnes Chow Ting, whose political party Demosisto supports Hong Kong’s “self-determination”. Pro-Beijing constitutional affairs experts suggested this could be problematic as all election candidates must declare they accept the city as an inalienable part of China.
The other candidate, Edward Yiu Chung-yim, was disqualified from Legco last year over an oath-taking saga.
But Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, who has been plagued by a three-week-long scandal over illegal structures on her property, told the lawmakers through a staff member that she would not meet them.
Earlier on Sunday, she said she was looking into legal issues involving Yiu.
The staff member asked the lawmakers, who had waited for two hours, to schedule a meeting with Cheng through her secretary.
Dennis Kwok, who represents the legal sector, said Cheng’s refusal to speak to the group showed her “non-committal and irresponsible attitude”, adding that this suggested that she could not gain Hongkongers’ trust.
Lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching said she asked Wong See-man, head of the electoral office, if Chow and Yiu were disqualified, but Wong only said: “I haven’t got the message at this moment.”
Mo said Wong confirmed, without elaborating, that three returning officers had sought legal advice from the Department of Justice on “candidacy issues”.
The pan-democrats alleged that the whole process was “operating in a black box” with no clear criteria on candidates’ eligibility.
“It is a political decision packaged in the name of the law,” Mo said.
“How can returning officers have the full power to decide who can and who cannot be the candidates?” Dennis Kwok asked.
Chow and Yiu had signed up last week to contest the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon West constituencies but only their potential rivals, district councillors Judy Chan Ka-pui and Vincent Cheng Wing-shun had been confirmed as valid candidates.
Nominations close on Monday, and the pan-democrats would have to quickly put forth their alternate candidates – Au Nok-hin and Ramon Yuen Hoi-man – if Yiu or Chow did not qualify.
Yiu and Chow on Thursday warned in a statement that disqualifying them “without any reasonable legal basis would cause grave and irreversible damage to [the] rule of law”.
Asked to comment, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung reiterated that returning officers would come to a decision based on ordinance and facts.
Separately, a spokesman for the independent Electoral Affairs Commission, which supervises polls, said it had no role to play in the nomination process.
Yiu, who was elected in the 2016 polls to represent the architectural, surveying, planning and landscape sector, was among six pro-democracy lawmakers stripped of their seats by the High Court last year for failing to take their oaths of office properly.
The March 11 by-election is to fill the seats vacated by four of them – Yiu, Nathan Law Kwun-chung (Hong Kong Island), Yau Wai-ching (Kowloon West) and Sixtus Baggio Leung Chung-hang (New Territories East) – while the remaining two, Leung Kwok-hung and Lau Siu-lai, are still appealing the court’s decision.
Pan-democrats argued that since Leung and Lau were in the midst of their appeal with no verdict issued yet, Cheng should not get to decide if disqualified lawmakers were allowed to stand for election again.
Additional reporting by Jeffie Lam and Ernest Kao