Young Hongkongers who had voiced pro-independence sentiments in the past will not automatically be barred from joining electoral contests, including those for the Legislative Council, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said on Sunday.
Such people would still be able to run for office as long they can convince the election authorities that they had changed their views and that they no longer support independence or self-determination for Hong Kong, Lam told a TV program.
Asked by the host if youth who had supported independence can still join any election if they change their stance after they grow up, Lam said electoral officials will consider the actions and words of the candidates from the recent past to decide their qualification to run.
Hong Kong’s leader added that if the youngsters can work for the government for some time after their graduation from college, the evidence could become clear that the persons have shed their old thinking.
Lam, however, added that she was merely giving an example, and that election candidates will be dealt with on individual basis based on their different situations.
The chief executive also clarified that she has never implied that such people have to join the pro-establishment camp before becoming candidates in elections, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The remarks came after ousted pro-democracy lawmaker Lau Siu-lai was barred from running in the Legco by-election scheduled for Nov. 25 for the Kowloon West geographical constituency, even though she signed a declaration in the nomination form to state that she will uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Citing multiple pieces of evidence, an election officer said on Friday that Lau, who was disqualified by the High Court in July last year for improper oath-taking in October 2016, had advocated “self-determination” and not changed her stance even though she later denied supporting Hong Kong independence.
As Lau had not changed her political stance and advocated self-determination, her application has been turned down, the returning officer said, quashing Lau’s bid to regain her Legco seat in the constituency.
More than one hundred people from the pro-democracy camp rallied on Saturday night at the Civic Square at the east wing forecourt of the government headquarters in Admiralty to protest the decision and voiced support for Lau, who called on her supporters to vote for the “Plan B” candidate Lee Cheuk-yan, a former lawmaker and former chairman of the Labour Party.
On Sunday’s program, referring to alleged calls for self-determination that led to Lau’s electoral disqualification, Lam said that as Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China, it means people in Hong Kong, although they enjoy a high degree of autonomy, cannot deem themselves separate from China.
Commenting on the issue, Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung said the returning officer made the disqualification judgment based on the ordinance for the Legco election, Electoral Affairs Commission regulation and the facts and evidence that are in the public domain.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a principal lecturer at the Department of Law of the University of Hong Kong, said the government has now clearly put politics above the law.
While High Court Justice Thomas Au Hing-cheung ruled in February this year that a returning officer is empowered to decide whether a candidate sincerely upholds the Basic Law, the latter should be given an opportunity of self-clarification based on principle of impartiality and procedural fairness, Cheung said.
In related news, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing suggested that the government should consider setting up an independent commission led by a judge to replace returning officers in terms of the entity that has the power to decide who is qualified for elections.
Tsang, meanwhile, also urged the government to conduct public consultation on legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law, which requires Hong Kong to implement laws against treason, secession, sedition and subversion, as soon as possible and complete it in Lam’s current term of office.
Such move will ensure that the public will get to know clearly the bottom lines drawn up by the government and Beijing, Tsang said.
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