28 October 2016
Legislation, not executive measures, is the right approach to dealing with the issue of separatists running for public office. Photo: HKEJ
Legislation, not executive measures, is the right approach to dealing with the issue of separatists running for public office. Photo: HKEJ

What’s the best way to uproot separatism?

Following the announcement from the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) that candidates for the Legco election must sign a declaration pledging allegiance to the Basic Law, some activists have filed applications for urgent judicial review, arguing that the new rule has no legal basis. 

Edward Leung Tin-kei, a candidate representing localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, and Avery Ng Man-yuen, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, lodged petitions at the High Court seeking its quick intervention.

But the court, while accepting their applications, ruled on Wednesday that it sees no urgency in dealing with the issue before the nomination period ends.

The matter is not of great urgency because regardless of whether a candidate signs the declaration or not, it won’t necessarily affect the person’s eligibility to run in the September election, a judge said.

The EAC would be relieved with the court decision to deny an urgent hearing on the new electoral rule.

That said, as the political activists’ judicial review application has not been dismissed, the matter is far from over and the issue could snowball into yet another political crisis in the days ahead. 

In the worst-case scenario, the court might rule that excluding pro-independence candidates from the election is unconstitutional, thereby declaring the entire result of the Legco Election null and void.

If that happens, Hong Kong will definitely face the biggest constitutional crisis it has ever seen.

As the outgoing Legco president, Jasper Tsang Yuk-sing, has put it, legislation, not executive measures which may not stand legal scrutiny, is the only proper way to prevent separatists from running for public office.

He added that even though it would be dangerous for Hong Kong to allow separatists to become lawmakers, it doesn’t justify any violation of the rule of law by the government.

We agree with Tsang that the only constitutional way to deny separatists access to our legislature is to legislate against their running.

However, as we have suggested earlier, in order to get to the root of separatism, what the Hong Kong government and Beijing need to do is to restore public confidence in “One Country Two Systems”.

After all, who will support separatism if the majority of the citizens believe their lives will be better under the one country, two systems?

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 28.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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