28 October 2016
Edward Leung (L) and Avery Ng have faced a setback in their legal challenge over a new rule pertaining to Legco election candidates, but the battle isn't over yet. Photo: HKEJ
Edward Leung (L) and Avery Ng have faced a setback in their legal challenge over a new rule pertaining to Legco election candidates, but the battle isn't over yet. Photo: HKEJ

Why Legco hopefuls must learn the art of compromise

The High Court has ruled that there is no need for an urgent hearing on judicial review petitions lodged by some Legislative Council hopefuls on a controversial new rule on election candidates.

Justice Thomas Au said on Wednesday that he saw no urgency in dealing with the issue before the nomination period for the September election ends on Friday. 

The ruling has disappointed three Legco hopefuls who had challenged the new rule that requires all election candidates to sign a declaration that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.  

Among those that sought quick judicial intervention and suspension of the rule were Edward Leung, a member of the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, and Avery Ng, chairman of the League of Social Democrats.

The political activists may be feeling sad following the court decision, but it doesn’t mean that they have lost the war. 

The cases haven’t been dismissed; it’s just that they will proceed at the usual pace and under normal procedures. 

For outsiders, what this all suggests is that the judiciary is aiming to stay neutral and avoid getting drawn into political battles ahead of the Legco election.

Martin Lee, who represents Leung and Ng in the court, has accused the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) of abusing its power and imposing a “loyalty check” on election candidates.

The EAC announced recently that election candidates will have sign a confirmation form declaring their allegiance to the Basic Law, particularly the articles that outline China’s rights over Hong Kong.

As the rule could mean that candidates advocating self-determination or independence for Hong Kong could be barred from the election, it has angered localist groups and other opposition activists.

Judge Au, however, appears to have based his ruling on the assumption that the EAC’s requirement is not binding.

Given the reports that some candidates have been declared eligible despite refusing to sign the new declaration form, Au may have felt that the court needn’t interfere with the election. 

That said, the EAC has reiterated that it has the legal power to ask candidates for more information, putting the prospects of activists such as Leung and Ng in doubt. 

Ahead of the court ruling, Legco’s outgoing president, Jasper Tsang, warned of a major backlash if the government bans someone from the election simply on the basis of the new confirmation form.

Nevertheless, people like Leung and Ng are still faced with some uncertainty.

Leung, who plans to run for a seat in New Territories East, will need to respond to the returning officer and declare that he is not a Hong Kong independence advocate.

With his Plan A of using a judicial review to stop “political filtering” of candidates coming undone, he faces two choices: abandon his radical stance and promise to uphold the Basic Law, at least for now, or withdraw from the election and declare his continued support for Hong Kong independence.

For candidates with pro-independence leanings, it is a difficult choice as to whether they should sign the confirmation form.

Should they hide their feelings and make a false declaration just so that they will be able to compete in the election?

Or walk away from the controversial electoral system without making any compromise on their political beliefs?

Given the current realities, radical activists may need to keep an open mind and not be rigid in their approach.

Sometimes, it is necessary to put your personal convictions aside and fight for the larger cause — which is to see more non-establishment members in the Legco.

With radical democrats gaining public recognition for the activists’ willingness to challenge the Beijing authorities, securing a bigger voice in the legislature will help in future battles. 

The pro-independence camp should understand the art of compromise. The activists should bear in mind that their supporters want them in the Legco to bring in a new culture and challenge the government on critical issues.

Against this backdrop, the activist politicians need to think really hard on the confirmation form issue.

There are signs that some radicals are already beginning to redraw their plans.

Leung, for instance, has changed his Facebook information by adding more content to show his support for the Basic Law, which is signal that he may accept the government rule.

Small compromises will not mean that they will have to give up their larger fight.

Actually, by joining the election, opposition activists will have a chance to show up the ridiculous position of the Hong Kong government with regard to “political censorship” of candidates.

Just like what Horace Chin, a university professor and an advocate of the Hong Kong city-state theory, is doing.

Chin, who has been dubbed “the godfather of localism”, has applied to run for a New Territories East seat.

The professor said he signed the confirmation form as it would serve as evidence as to how Beijing and Hong Kong authorities are suppressing Hong Kong people as they fight for their own future.

Political activists should learn to play the game and take on the government even under a restrictive legal and political framework.

The task is not easy, but it’s worth doing as this may be the only way that we can continue to fight for our rights and preservation of our freedoms.

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EJ Insight writer

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