28 October 2016
Those calling for Hong Kong independence are simply concerned about what will happen to the city when Beijing's 50-year status quo commitment expires in 2047.  Photo: Reuters
Those calling for Hong Kong independence are simply concerned about what will happen to the city when Beijing's 50-year status quo commitment expires in 2047. Photo: Reuters

How govt will try to bar pro-independence candidates from Legco

As the Legislative Council elections draw near, the voices of those talking about Hong Kong independence continue to rise.

At least six political parties have been established recently with the aim of seeking a review of China’s rule over Hong Kong, a development that the pro-Beijing camp is clearly bothered about.

And so while there is still time, Beijing and its loyalists want to cut this emerging movement at its root.

But first they must test the waters, to see how Hong Kong people would react before taking any concrete action.

Could the government, for instance, prevent pro-independence candidates participating in the election? 

In fact, the rise of the independence movement is threatening to shake up Hong Kong’s political landscape. Whereas before Beijing just had to reckon with the pan-democratic camp, now it has to deal with a new but potentially more threatening bloc in the form of pro-independence groups.

And if these passionate and brash youngsters manage to gain seats in the government, Beijing could only imagine what kind of damage they could bring to its authority in Hong Kong.

They could, in fact, make use of Legco as a stage from which to launch the independence movement, and win more public support.

While there is still a question of how many seats pro-independence groups can secure in the Legco elections in September, the fact that a pro-independence candidate, Edward Leung, managed to secure 15 percent of the vote in his first attempt shows the potential of their advocacy to gain public support.

This early, Beijing loyalists appear to be working behind the scenes to persuade the Hong Kong government to impose stringent control on the candidates’ background and their political stance.

Sources told news website on Thursday that Beijing loyalists and the government are working together to prevent pro-independence forces establishing a sphere of influence in the Legco, thus giving the central government no excuse to further tighten its reins on Hong Kong.

The barriers suggested by Beijing loyalists include banning the use of “sensitive” words – meaning those that call for independence – on the campaign materials and speeches of candidates.

There are, of course, many ways to skin the cat. Pro-independence candidates can easily skirt such a restriction by resorting to creative ways of getting their message across.

Words such as independence, self-determination, and formation of a Hong Kong nation could all be banned by the government because their use could be considered as violative of the provisions of the Basic Law, which declares Hong Kong as part of China.

The HK01 report also said the government would probably closely monitor the swearing-in ceremonies of the winning candidates with pro-independence leanings. 

During the taking of the Legco oath, the legislators need to declare their loyalty to the Hong Kong SAR government and the People’s Republic of China, as well as support and embrace the Basic Law.

According to the Beijing loyalists’ thinking, these pro-independence politicians would not swear their loyalty to Beijing, and if they would not, they could be removed from office if two-thirds of the lawmakers voted for their removal.

Thus, under such a plan, lawmakers would be subjected to a political test, and there could be another type of white terror, a sort of political witchhunt, to isolate the pan-democratic group.

But it’s all silly, really.  The lawmakers derive their mandate from the people, at least that’s the principle.

So pro-independence lawmakers, especially those elected into office by geographical constituencies, have a solid mandate to assume office and perform their duties.

Using the Legco oath as a way of checking the lawmakers’ political loyalty is also nonsense. The lawmakers’ right to serve the public comes from their election by the people, and their election victory gains precedence over their political loyalty.

According to the election law, the fact that they are permanent Hong Kong residents is enough qualification for them to serve office.

The law does not prohibit those who are not loyal to the Basic Law or to Beijing authorities from assuming their office as legislators.

Their bosses are not the Beijing loyalists or their pro-establishment colleagues but the Hong Kong people.

Political loyalty checks should never be made a requirement in Legco. 

Such a screening mechanism is no doubt part of Beijing’s plan to exclude democrats from running in the 2017 chief executive election, as envisioned in Beijing’s “one man, one vote” blueprint, which was overwhelmingly rejected in Legco in June last year.

But the authorities need to understand that the rise of groups seeking Hong Kong independence has nothing to do with political loyalties.

These people simply care about what will happen to Hong Kong when Beijing’s 50-year status quo commitment expires in 2047. 

They have seen that Beijing’s rule is not something they are mad about. In fact, it is something they dread and fear because they believe that it will mean the end of their most cherished values like freedom of expression, rule of law and judicial independence.

A recent survey by the Chinese University of Hong Kong showed that 8.4 percent of the 1,012 respondents consider themselves as localists, while 31.9 percent as mild democrats.

And almost 30 percent of those who consider themselves as localists are within the age group of 18 to 29.

Anyone who would seek to disqualify lawmakers on the basis of their political stance would need to answer to these young voters.

Or is that the real aim of the Beijing loyalists: to disenfranchise the young localist voters?

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EJ Insight writer

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