Hong Kong leader says there is ‘no room’ in city for those that back independence or self-determination
Chief Executive Carrie Lam makes remarks hours after ousted opposition lawmaker Lau Siu-lai is banned from running for office in Kowloon West by-election on November 25
Hong Kong’s leader said on Saturday there was “no room for inclusion” in the city for anyone who advocated for self-determination or independence, and those that did could never be its lawmakers.
Reinforcing her stance that there could be no compromise on the subject, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor dropped her latest political bombshell just hours after the government banned ousted opposition politician Lau Siu-lai from running for a seat in the Legislative Council.
Pointing to her political masters in Beijing, Lam said her uncompromising approach was based on her “dual responsibility” to Hong Kong, and the central government.
Lau was banned on Friday, on the grounds that she had once advocated for self-determination for Hong Kong, and electoral officers were not convinced she had changed those beliefs, despite her statements to the contrary.
The decision sparked an outcry from pan-democrats, and more than 14,900 Hongkongers had signed a petition in protest in less than 24 hours.
Pan-democrats have urged supporters to flock to government headquarters on Saturday night to take part in a rally protesting the decision.
Speaking on a radio programme on Saturday, Lam said the decision of the returning officer was made in accordance with the electoral laws, and the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
“[A person who upholds] independence, self-determination as a choice [of the city] shall not aspire to be a lawmaker,” she said.
The chief executive rejected the accusation that Lau was being banned from running for office “for life”, and said the decision was for just one election.
The returning officer appointed by the Electoral Affairs Commission, Franco Kwok Wai-fun, cited remarks Lau made two years ago, when she issued a joint declaration with political party Demosisto and Eddie Chu Hoi-dick calling for “democratic self-determination”.
The declaration also called for keeping open the option for independence, and Kwok argued that Lau had not genuinely changed her stance, even though she stopped calling for self-determination in preparation for the Kowloon West by-election on November 25.
Asked why Lau was barred, even if she had changed her stance, Lam said it was a matter of being satisfied that a person had truly changed their views.
“We could change our stance made yesterday, every day. But the key is whether the returning officer is convinced [by that change], when they rule in accordance with the law,” she said.
In a second radio appearance, Lam was pressed on how she could convince the public the government was inclusive, a claim she made in her second policy address, when Lau’s disqualification, and the expulsion of Victor Mallet, the Asia news editor of the Financial Times, might suggest otherwise.
In response, Lam said inclusion came with conditions. “It is not touching the bottom line of the ‘one country’,” she said. “As the chief executive, I bear dual responsibility. I am responsible to both the Hong Kong [people] and the central government.”
She said there was “no room for inclusion”, for those who backed self-determination and independence of the city.
Lau is the ninth person in Hong Kong to be barred from running in a Legco election since 2016. In January, the government banned Demosisto activist Agnes Chow Ting from running in a March by-election, because of her party’s advocacy of self-determination.
Before the ban on Lau and Chow, other disqualified candidates had touched a more obvious red line by calling for independence.
But, earlier this year, senior mainland official Li Fei, and former director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office Wang Guangya, said calling for either the city’s self-determination, or independence, contravened the Basic Law.
Bruce Lui Ping-kuen, senior lecturer at Baptist University, said the ruling showed that the government had no room to deviate from the red line drawn by Beijing, calling it a sign of “mainlandisation”.
“On the mainland, the stripping of one’s political rights lasts a long time,” Lui said. “I believe it would be very difficult for those who had called for self-determination to join any future election.”
He suggested lawmaker Eddie Chu could be barred from running in the next citywide Legislative Council elections in 2020.
A spokesman for the United States government said they were concerned by reports that Hong Kong’s election laws have not been applied consistently across all candidate applications, resulting in the disqualification of candidates from standing for election.
“We believe that an open society, with the highest possible degree of autonomy and governed by the rule of law, is essential for Hong Kong’s continued stability and prosperity,” he said.
Aiming to raise awareness among the international community, and in what it called a bid “to expose the dirty tactics of the [Hong Kong] government”, Demosisto plans to hold a rally in London on Sunday.
On Friday, Labour Party veteran Lee Cheuk-yan signed up for the race as a “plan B”, in case Lau was disqualified.
Former journalist and government political assistant Chan Hoi-yan, who is representing the pro-establishment camp in the upcoming by-election, said she respected the returning officer’s ruling.
The third candidate, former pan-democratic lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, meanwhile called the ban a “political persecution”.
At 8pm on Saturday, hundreds of Hongkongers showed up outside the government headquarters in Admiralty to protest against the ban on Lau.
The crowd, gathered under the call made by the pan-democratic bloc, occupied a 100-metre stretch along Tim Mei Avenue, extending from Harcourt Road to the government offices’ east gate.
More than a dozen public figures and politicians called on the city’s voters to support Lee Cheuk-yan, who was called “the only candidate running on behalf of the pro-democracy camp” by Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai.
“Frederick Fung said he opposed the disqualification of Lau,” Wu said at the rally. “I hope Hongkongers can sharpen their eyes and see clearly which political camp was disqualified.”
Dr Chan Kin-man, a sociologist and co-founder of the 2014 Occupy movement, said on stage: “Raise your heads, Hongkongers and cast your votes for Lee Cheuk-yan … Let’s slap the government in its face with our votes.”
Former radical lawmaker Wong Yuk-man in a Facebook live broadcast on Saturday night announced that he would boycott the by-election.
“Not running, not endorsing, not voting!” Wong chanted with dozens of his followers.
Wong said it was unfair for the government to effectively bar Lau and other candidates from standing for election for life.
Additional reporting by Alvin Lum