Second Hong Kong opposition candidate banned from running in Legislative Council by-election
But replacement for disqualified activist Agnes Chow gets green light to run
Electoral officials on Wednesday banned a second opposition candidate from running in Hong Kong’s coming legislative by-election, but gave the green light to the replacement for disqualified democracy activist Agnes Chow Ting.
The disqualification of localist Ventus Lau Wing-hong and the approval for Au Nok-hin came four days after the officials triggered a political storm by invalidating Chow’s candidacy on the grounds that her political party, Demosisto, advocated self-determination for Hong Kong.
Au, a southern district councillor formerly with the Democratic Party, had signed up on Saturday for the Hong Kong Island constituency race as a backup for Chow.
“As a candidate recommended by the pro-democracy camp, I will do my utmost to cooperate with comrades on the path to democracy, gain back our seat, and strengthen the power of the legislature for democracy and the rule of law,” Au said.
He accused the government of creating a chilling effect by screening out candidates for their political beliefs.
Lau’s bid to contest a New Territories East constituency seat in the March 11 poll was rejected by Electoral Affairs Commission returning officer Amy Chan Yuen-man before Au’s successful nomination was announced.
Chan said she was not satisfied that Lau, a former Chinese University student leader, had ditched his previous support for the idea of Hong Kong independence, even though he had earlier made a declaration suggesting so.
Chan cited a number of statements Lau posted on his Facebook page in 2016 – reiterating his pro-independence stance – as well as a statement he made in December announcing a U-turn.
“On an objective reading, Mr Lau himself claimed that he no longer supports the independence of Hong Kong, thereby admitting that he had been (at least until the time of this statement) supporting independence of Hong Kong,” Chan’s assessment read.
“His present claim that he no longer supports the independence of Hong Kong, that he now starts to pledge full allegiance to the Basic Law, is made purely because of political reality.”
Chan said Lau’s words and acts had expressed “an apparent reluctance to denounce his hitherto manifested and sustained stance in favour of independence of Hong Kong”, which led to her conclude that he did not genuinely and truly intend to uphold the city’s mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative region.
Lau said it was “very unreasonable” for Chan to make the ruling based on his remarks dating back to 2016, and he would explore the possibility of a legal challenge against the decision.
“I have already openly said I no longer support Hong Kong independence. Does that mean whoever has supported independence will be barred from running for the rest of their life?”
University of Hong Kong law scholar Eric Cheung Tat-ming described the disqualification of Lau as “ridiculous”, saying the returning officer did not have the legal power to disqualify hopefuls to start with, as it was up to the courts.
Even if they had the power, he continued, he doubted if it would returning officers were allowed to trawl through what prospective candidates had said in the past to determine their candidacy.
“No one is allowed to change their minds any more,” he said. “This is the rule of man.”
Executive councillor Ronny Tong Ka-wah, also a barrister, agreed that Lau’s case was in “an even greyer area” than Chow’s.
“As Lau is non-affiliated, the returning officer cannot judge from a party manifesto but only from his words,” Tong said, adding that it was now hard to judge if the ruling was done according to the law.
Earlier on Wednesday, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor categorically denied personal involvement in the controversial decision to disqualify Chow.
“When the decision was being made, I was not in Hong Kong and had spent a week in Switzerland for the World Economic Forum,” she told lawmakers at a question-and-answer session.
“But as the law and the factual basis are so clear, it appears that [the returning officer] did not need others – particularly me – to participate.”