Hong Kong democrats to stay in legislature during interim year as public opinion split

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Pro-democracy legislators said Tuesday they have decided to stay in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) until postponed elections are held in a year’s time, with public opinion split on whether they should remain or quit after Beijing extended the body’s term of office.

The 15 incumbent legislators from several parties said they had to make a tough “political judgement” since their supporters were almost equally divided on the issue, according to a survey by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute.

Democratic legislators and representatives from the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute meet the press on September 29, 2020. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

The issue arose when Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam postponed for one year a LegCo election scheduled on September 6. Lam cited health dangers from Covid-19 but critics said she was eager to prevent a defeat for the pro-government camp, which has a majority in the 70-seat body.

Beijing in August extended for at least a year the legislature’s four-year term.

Critics said pan-democrats would only legitimise Beijing’s interference in semi-autonomous Hong Kong if they decided to stay on. Supporters said the legislators would give the Hong Kong government a free pass to enact controversial policies if they quit.

The opinion survey showed that among the 2,579 respondents, 739 people identified themselves as supporters of the democrats. Excluding 27 “don’t knows” and one person who refused to answer the question, 47.1 per cent of the supporters said the democrats should stay on while 45.8 per cent said they should resign. The remainder said they were neutral on the issue.

Legislators from the pro-democracy camp take photo on the last day of the sixth Legislative Council term. Photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

Democratic Party chairman Wu Chi-wai said the legislators had to make the call themselves because the survey results did not meet the 50 per cent threshold. He said the 15 democrats chose to stay because they wanted to prevent the government from passing “evil bills” and defend the “limited platform” for people to voice their opinions.

“Many colleagues have said this decision is a dilemma, like choosing the lesser of two evils,” he said.

Wu said there would be critics whatever the group had decided. But the lawmakers would safeguard the “council front line” and work with those fighting for democracy and freedom in the local and international community.

Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung said lawmakers would have to justify their decision to remain. “Let our actions prove the value of staying.”

Yeung announced that Tanya Chan, who was the convener of the pro-democracy camp, would not remain in office due to personal reasons. Chan cited her health and a court sentence over her involvement in the 2014 Umbrella Movement as reasons to retire from politics, adding that she would quit the Civic Party which she joined in 2006.

Tanya Chan. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

“I have deeply experienced how family and health is more important than everything else… therefore I’ve decided long ago to leave the political arena after this current LegCo four-year term,” Chan wrote on Facebook.

On Monday, Eddie Chu and People Power’s Ray Chan confirmed their departure, saying they would not accept Beijing’s “endorsement” and serve in an “appointed legislature.” They said Beijing’s move to extend the current legislature violated Article 69 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that each council term shall be four years.