12 December 2018
If dozens of pro-democracy legislators lose their seats, Hong Kong's legislature would be thrown into disarray. Photo: Reuters
If dozens of pro-democracy legislators lose their seats, Hong Kong's legislature would be thrown into disarray. Photo: Reuters

Basic Law interpretation might prove to be a double-edged sword

After the interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC), it is almost certain that Youngspiration’s Sixtus Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching will be disqualified from office.

However, the magnitude of the collateral damage is unknown at this stage.

There are more than a dozen other pro-democracy lawmakers who failed to take their oath “sincerely, accurately and solemnly” during the initial swearing-in and had to retake their oaths, or who nailed it in one take but added their own script.

These lawmakers could also have violated Article 104 of the Basic Law, according to the NPCSC’s interpretation. They face the risk of losing their office as well.

It probably won’t cause too much chaos if in the end only the Youngspiration duo lose their seats and trigger two by-elections.

However, if in the worst-case scenario a dozen lawmakers were removed from office, the repercussions would be beyond calculation and the legislature would be thrown into disarray.

To make things worse, the pro-democracy camp could also risk losing their veto power if they fail to maintain the same number of seats in the subsequent by-elections.

If that happened, they would no longer be able to block the next political reform proposal by the administration.

To be more precise, the pro-democracy camp needs to keep at least 24 seats as a whole to veto any political reform proposal by the government.

They need to maintain a minimum of 19 seats in the geographical constituencies to hold their majority so as to block any amendment to the Rules of Procedure proposed by the pro-establishment camp to ban filibusters under the split voting system.

On the other hand, some are worried that Beijing’s heavy-handedness in wiping out pro-independence groups from the legislature could backfire and fuel public sympathy for the pro-independence cause.

Their worries are not unfounded.

Even though the Youngspiration pair might not run in the by-election, it is likely that voters may cast their vote for other less explicit pro-independence candidates to express their anger over Beijing’s relentless crackdown on dissent.

That said, the results of the upcoming by-elections will serve as a gauge of public opinion on the NPCSC’s interpretation.

From Beijing’s perspective, it might feel completely justified in suppressing separatism in Hong Kong.

But to many Hong Kong people, Beijing’s actions amount to outright violation of their autonomy promised under the Basic Law.

The NPCSC’s interpretation might turn out to be a double-edged sword in the end.

It might curb the rise of separatism for now but at the same time it may further alienate the public and plant the seeds of more discontent in the long run.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Nov. 9

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version中文版]

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