With half a dozen candidates now barred from the Legislative Council polls, doubts are growing in the minds of observers about the fairness and impartiality of Hong Kong’s elections watchdog.
The concerns have intensified especially after an electoral officer on Tuesday disqualified Edward Leung Tin-kei (梁天琦), a charismatic young political activist, from the September contest.
Leung, who belongs to the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, saw his candidacy get rejected in what is widely seen as an arbitrary and unjustified decision.
The 25-year-old was informed about the rejection of his nomination papers just hours before the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) held a briefing for confirmed candidates.
What is annoying is that Leung has been shut out from the election even though he has complied with all the EAC’s guidelines, including one pertaining to a controversial new declaration form.
In keeping with a rule announced last month on Legco candidates, Leung signed a pledge to uphold the Basic Law and accept that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China.
Still, his application to run for a seat in the New Territories East constituency was turned down.
A returning officer said she was not convinced that Leung had really changed his previously stated position of pushing for Hong Kong independence.
Leung had signed the declaration only to get around the EAC’s new rule, the officer suggested, justifying her decision to turn down the nomination.
Leung “has not provided sufficient reasons or evidence to prove that the media reports on his advocacy for Hong Kong independence were not true,” the returning officer of the New Territories East constituency said.
The remarks suggest that Leung was shut out in a subjective decision taken by the electoral officer, or in the worst case due to instruction from some political higher-ups, critics say.
Questions are being raised as Leung was considered to have had reasonably good chances of winning in the election, given that he secured more than 15 percent of the votes in the same seat in a by-election seven months ago.
By nixing his candidacy, has the EAC played a political role and sought to weed out a potentially troublesome lawmaker? This is among the thoughts passing through the minds of political activists.
Prior to thwarting Leung, the election watchdog rejected the nominations of five other candidates from political groups suspected of having pro-independence leanings.
The nominees rejected include Andy Chan Kwok-keung (陳國強) of Hong Kong National Party and Yeung Ke-cheong (楊繼昌) of the Democratic Progressive Party.
Looking at the developments, it appears the government has changed the rules of the election framework, with candidates’ stance on Hong Kong’s political future becoming the key criteria to determine their eligibility to stand for public office.
As authorities abuse their power to achieve political goals, Hong Kong people are beginning to lose confidence over the freedoms and rule of law in the city.
A survey by the public opinion program of the University of Hong Kong has shown that people are less optimistic now about most social indicators compared to half a year ago.
The ratings of three out of five core social indicators —namely democracy, freedom, prosperity, stability, and the rule of law — have gone down.
The rating of “freedom” has dropped to all-time record low since this survey series began in 1997, while those of “rule of law” and “democracy” have fallen to their weakest levels since 2000 and 2004 respectively.
The poll underlines the fact Hong Kong people look beyond the city’s economic development, and that they worry about the preserving the city’s uniqueness and upholding its core values.
Coming back to the Leung case, Beijing and Hong Kong authorities have damaged the fairness of a public election via a low-tier government official called returning officer.
As top leaders want to escape accusations of political screening of candidates, they are making use of the election framework by shifting the burden to the returning officers in key constituencies.
And another sad thing is that the new rule on Legco hopefuls is being imposed selectively.
Some candidates have been allowed to run in the election even though they refused to sign the new declaration form, while some were rejected on the basis of the new rule.
It doesn’t matter if you sign the declaration or not, it is your perceived political beliefs that weigh in the eyes of the authorities.
Rather than welcome the news that Leung had pledged to uphold the Basic Law and recognize China’s rights over Hong Kong, why did authorities choose not to believe him?
Can the government offer any proof that Leung had made a false declaration or told lies? Is a person not entitled to change his previously stated position?
What is clear is that the establishment doesn’t want people like Leung to make their way into the Legislative Council and raise uncomfortable questions regarding the city’s political roadmap.
“When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a duty,” Leung told the media after his candidacy was rejected.
The activist will now focus on boosting the prospects of four young candidates from Youngspiration, a political party founded last year with localist ideology.
While it remains to be seen how the new group will fare, one need not be surprised if it gains more support following the EAC’s controversial filtering of election candidates and the government’s authoritarian tendencies.
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