Date
4 December 2016
Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung have vowed to keep fighting despite an adverse ruling from the High Court over an oath-taking controversy. Photo: HKEJ
Yau Wai-ching and Sixtus Leung have vowed to keep fighting despite an adverse ruling from the High Court over an oath-taking controversy. Photo: HKEJ

What the High Court ruling means for opposition groups

The writing was clearly on the wall for Sixtus “Baggio” Leung and Yau Wai-ching. 

A week after Beijing said the two newly-elected Hong Kong lawmakers must be barred from taking office due to improper oath-taking, a local court has also come out against the duo.

On Tuesday, the High Court ruled that Leung and Yau must be disqualified from the Legislative Council as they failed to take their oaths “truthfully and faithfully”.

The conduct of the lawmakers-elect at a swearing-in ceremony last month is a sign of their lack of commitment to upholding the Basic Law and recognize China’s rights over Hong Kong, a judge said.

Well, the ruling is no surprise, given that the court has been pre-empted by Beijing’s intervention and interpretation of the Basic Law — Hong Kong’s mini-constitution — earlier this month.

Justice Thomas Au insisted Tuesday that the High Court reached an independent decision and that it was not influenced by Beijing’s move.

That may be so, but it is still hard to envisage how the verdict could have been anything else.

Leung and Yau, two winning candidates in the September Legco election, have been facing heat after they unfurled banners proclaiming “Hong Kong is not China”, and also uttered some words deemed insulting to the mainland, at an oath-taking event in the Legco in October.

Following the “misbehavior”, Beijing announced an interpretation of Article 104 of the Basic Law and declared that the pro-independence members were ineligible to take up duties as lawmakers.

The Hong Kong government, led by Beijing loyalist Leung Chun-ying, had also sought to disqualify the duo by launching a judicial petition.

The efforts appear to have succeeded as the High Court has stood on the side of the political establishment.

The Youngspiration lawmakers are, however, not giving up the fight as they announced that they will appeal the court verdict. 

Pro-Beijing loyalists have, not surprisingly, hailed the High Court ruling as it would pave way for by-elections and offer a chance for establishment candidates to grab the seats left vacant by the pair.

The verdict would also provide momentum to efforts to challenge the eligibility of some other opposition lawmakers who didn’t conform to all the laid-down norms during oath-taking.

Amid all this, some observers are again raising this question: are the courts being misused to serve political ends, rather than ensure justice and fairness under an independent legal system?

While it commendable that a judge has declared that Tuesday’s ruling had nothing to do Beijing’s interpretation of the law, one can be forgiven for harboring some misgivings.

In his ruling, Justice Thomas Au said the manner in which the two localists took the oaths “showed objectively and clearly” that they did not faithfully intend to commit themselves to upholding the Basic Law and recognize the ‘one country, two systems’ principle.

The judgment draws a clear definition for future politicians and officials on taking oaths “truthfully and faithfully” to show their respect to the authorities.

But in doing so, it has sparked concern about freedom of expression rights of lawmakers.

Going by the judgment, the judge failed to get convincing explanations from the Youngspiration lawmakers as to their actions and words during the failed oath-taking.

Under the circumstances, the court had no choice but to disqualify the lawmakers.

From a broad perspective, we can say that what the lawmakers-elect did in the Legco was resort to civic disobedience action to express their anger at the political system.

But with the High Court ruling and Beijing’s action, the law has been amplified with more concrete wording on the oath-taking.

The verdict can be taken as introduction of a political loyalty test or censorship on those seeking public office.

This could change the landscape of local politics as even the opposition figures will now have to affirm their recognition of China’s sovereignty over Hong Kong if they want to run in elections.

Such conditions could split the opposition camp further.

As radical groups that advocate Hong Kong independence or self-determination or those that don’t recognize the Basic Law may be barred from elections in future, they will have no voice in the Legco.

Meanwhile, the traditional opposition groups like the Democratic Party and the Civic Party could be re-classified as “loyal opposition” as they accept the People’s Republic as the sovereign power over Hong Kong.

If that happens, the opposition, at least in the eyes of many local youth, will be no different from the pro-Beijing camp.

Beijing and CY Leung are once again playing tricks to splinter the already fragile opposition camp. Now the question is: should they be allowed to succeed in the mission?

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SC/AC/RC

EJ Insight writer

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