Explainer: How Hong Kong banned 12 democrats from the legislative election

©Hong Kong Free Press

The Legislative Council Elections nomination period ended last Friday with Hong Kong’s government barring 12 pro-democracy candidates from the now-postponed race.

Most electoral officers cited a past ruling that disqualified pro-independence activist Andy Chan from running in 2016 legislative elections. They wrote that “an intention to uphold the Basic Law denotes not just a compliance of it but also an intention to support, promote, and embrace it” was required for candidacies to be validated.

Basic Law. File photo: GovHK.

Nine of the 12 candidates stood in the democratic primaries earlier last month. Returning officers scrutinised their social media posts, as well as signed joint statements and participation in foreign government meetings.

The disqualified democrats were accused, among other things, of “objecting the national security law,” “soliciting foreign powers in relation to Hong Kong affairs,” “expressing an intention to abuse the power of [the Legislative Council],” meaning they could not pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR and uphold its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

HKFP looks at electoral officers’ reasons for invalidating the candidates’ nominations.

Opposing the security law

Tiffany Yuen, Fergus Leung, Joshua Wong, Gwyneth Ho, Ventus Lau, Lester Shum and dozens of other legislative hopefuls co-signed a joint statement on July 15 declaring they would “relentlessly oppose the national security law.”

Signatories all vowed not to sign a controversial candidate confirmation form affirming China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong, following speculation that the national security law might be included in it for the 2020 elections. This later proved to be true.

Electoral officers addressed the self-proclaimed “resistance camp” candidates’ joint statement, saying “relentlessly opposing” the security law was regarded in principle as objecting to the government’s constitutional obligations under the Basic Law.

(Top, left to right) Winnie Yu, Tiffany Yuen, Frankie Fung, Kinda Li, Henry Wong, Sam Cheung, Ng Kin-wai, Ventus Lau, Gwyneth Ho, Eddie Chu. (Bottom, left to right) Fergus Leung, Sunny Cheung, Joshua Wong, Lester Shum, Wong Ji-yuet, Owen Chow. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

Some candidates also said the enactment of the security law conflicted with existing legal principles. The officers considered this as tantamount to objecting to Hong Kong’s constitutional obligation to safeguard national security.

Vowing to veto the budget

Returning officer Steve Wong accused Fergus Leung of not intending to faithfully perform his duty as a lawmaker after he helped draft a statement promising to exhaust all legislative means to force the government into acceding to demands.

Police barriers on Legislative Council Road. Photo: Rhoda Kwan/HKFP

“I will use the Legislative Council’s [LegCo] power stipulated in the Basic Law – including vetoing budget bills – to compel the Chief Executive to respond to the five demands,” the joint statement in June read. “To revoke all protester charges, to hold all relevant persons accountable for police brutality and to relaunch political reform in order to achieve universal suffrage.”

Cutting ties with political groups

Activist Joshua Wong, who co-founded the now-disbanded political group Demosisto, resigned from his post before submitting his candidate nomination. Returning Officer Alice Choi accused Wong of promoting self-determination, despite Demosisto removing the concept from its constitution in January. The authorities see the idea as akin to advocating independence for Hong Kong.

Joshua Wong. Photo: Joshua Wong, via Facebook.

“It seems to me the real reason for the Candidate’s resignation from Demosisto and Demosisto’s disbandment was to avoid being caught under the newly passed national security law,” the officer wrote, pointing to the date of Wong’s resignation from Demosisto as a day before the enactment of the security law on June 30.

Choi also cited a past ruling that barred Wong from running in last November’s district council election, despite noting that they were not binding to her present judgement. She concluded that advocacy of “self-determination” was in effect refusing to acknowledge China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.

Lobbying foreign governments

Electoral officer Aaron Liu challenged incumbent lawmaker Kenneth Leung – who was seeking re-election in the Accounting sector – for failing to disagree with a call from his political group for the US to impose sanctions on Hong Kong officials.

Liu said the Facebook post from the Professionals Guild on March 8 clearly expressed support for penalties from Washington. Leung denied involvement in such advocacy work. But the officer cited his trip to the US with two other pro-democracy lawmakers and a follow-up press conference where he did not publicly state he disagreed with the position.

Meanwhile, the returning officer for Lester Shum – who was running for the super district councillor seat – also highlighted his trips to Denmark and Norway in February. During that time, he advocated for the enforcement of the Magnitsky Act against Hong Kong officials over alleged human rights violations in last year’s pro-democracy protests.

Banned protest slogan

Electoral officer Steve Wong challenged Tiffany Yuen for displaying the banned protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times,” in a now-deleted photo posted to her Instagram account on January 7. The government declared the phrase to be pro-independence, albeit after Yuen had submitted her nomination on July 21.

Liberate Hong Kong; Revolution of our Times. Photo: May James/HKFP.

Wong further wrote that the slogan was placed next to a nameplate containing her official title as an elected district councillor, which signified her support for it. He added a failure to remove the photo constituted “continuous display” of the outlawed phrase. He asked Yuen whether the post indicated her intention to refuse to accept China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong.