A special administrative region (SAR) of China, Hong Kong has a partially autonomous political and legal system, including a limited form of democracy that has evolved since its days under British colonial rule.
Those limits and the government’s inability to continue a transition to full democracy have been criticized by the city’s opposition, sparking mass protest movements.
And certainly, there is a lot to think about.
Those affected include activist Joshua Wong, leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement, and other protesting students, but also mainstream candidates from pro-democracy parties and moderate multiple legislators, including Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung.
While candidates have been prevented from sitting in the past, and some have even been removed from office once elected, the large number of those banned this week, and the broad justifications given for doing so, raise questions about whether it is possible to have significant opposition in Hong Kong.
The next election – currently scheduled for September 6 – will be the first time a new national security law has come into force, criminalizing secession, subversion, terrorism and interference. foreign.
That law already had a major cooling effect, and could have stopped the city’s protest movement on its tracks. The government now appears to be following its critics within the legislature.
While decisions to avoid 12 lawmakers were taken by returning officials in their various constituencies – low-level bureaucrats – both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments quickly made statements in support of the move.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the de facto constitution of the city, prospective co-legislators want to waste “maintaining” the constitution, a statement that has been largely procedural in the past.
But citing a court case in 2016 banning a pro-independence candidate, the government said in a statement that the promise to “defend” the Basic Law “indicates not only compliance with it, but also an intention to support it, promote and embrace it. ”
The government also gave examples of behavior that would result in disqualification, including in favor of Hong Kong’s independence or self-determination, or “requesting intervention from foreign governments or political authorities.”
While such behavior is tolerated in many democracies – both the British and Canadian parliaments include openly secessionist parties, for example – they are all new illegal in Hong Kong, under security law.
Other examples, however, are much more in line with what it means with opposition politician, including “expressing intent” to “vote” indiscriminately on any legislative proposals, appointments, funding applications and budgets introduced by the government () to force the government to adhere to certain political demands . ”
This seems to be a reaction to a plan by some in the pro-democracy camp, if they won a majority in the legislature, to vote for leader Carrie Lam’s budget, which has forced a constitutional crisis and potentially her resignation.
Candidates should also be prescribed if they express an “objection in principle” to the entry into security law. And while the government has promised that the law will not be retroactive, several returning officials have cited opposition candidates to the law before its entry as a reason for not allowing it, something that could result in many more disqualifications because virtually the whole pro-democracy movement. it was united to oppose the law.
Free and fair?
In its statement supporting the disqualification of candidates this week, and further hints to enter, the government said there was “no issue of political censorship, restriction of freedom of speech or denial of the right to stand for election as alleged by some members of the community. ”
“The government (Hong Kong) respects and safeguards the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong, including the right to vote and the right to stand for election. It also has a duty to implement and protect the -Basic Law and ensures that all elections will be conducted in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant electoral laws, “he added.
However, the request was immediately challenged by many, both in the city and abroad, including British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab who, in a statement, said it was clear that the candidates “were disqualified because of the views their politicians. ”
“The movement undermines the integrity of the ‘One Country, Two Systems’ and the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Hong Kong Joint Declaration and Basic Law,” added Raab, referring to the system which under international law it guaranteed the city’s autonomy until 2047.
Human rights groups, current lawmakers, political parties and other foreign governments have also criticized the move, with Amnesty International saying it has shown “an intention to punish peaceful critics and advocates of opposing views.”
While the election itself is currently in doubt because of the coronavirus – there is a suggestion that it could be postponed to next year – if it goes ahead, it seems unlikely it will include much of the more pro-democracy. the most popular or prominent figures in the city, and perhaps a few serious opposition candidates.
This echoes the proposal put forward by Beijing in 2014 on how Hong Kong can choose its leader. Unlike the current system, where a tiny committee chooses the chief executive, the Chinese government said all Hong Kongers get a vote – but Beijing controls who it is.