Legco elections: Another de facto referendum

August 10, 2016 13:15
Thousands of people who turned out at a public event organized by Hong Kong National Party showed how quickly the pro-independence movement has grown. Photo: HKEJ

Ever since pan-democrats deliberately triggered a Legco by-election in 2010 to make a political point, every election has been a referendum on particular issues.

Soon the people of Hong Kong will have another opportunity to speak their minds -- whether Hong Kong should seek full independence from the mainland.

In fact, voters in New Territories East expressed their opinion on the matter in a by-election in March by giving Edward Leung, a pro-independence supporter, almost 20 percent of the vote.

Leung has been disqualified from the Sept. 4 elections after failing a loyalty test.

Although he had signed a declaration pledging allegiance to the Basic Law, the Electoral Affairs Commission decided he was not loyal enough.

So now that the government has stopped Leung's candidacy, can it derail the entire pro-independence camp? Does it mean Hong Kong people will be deprived of a chance to be heard on such an important issue?

Of course not.

There is a silver lining in Leung's disqualification. It might backfire on the government and generate public sympathy for the pro-independence cause, boosting the election prospects of independence-leaning or pro-independence candidates.

Thousands of people who turned out at a public event organized by Hong Kong National Party last week showed how quickly the pro-independence movement has grown.

Surprisingly, pro-Beijing newspapers had practically nothing to say about it. Were they scared they might trigger a bigger backlash?

But if nothing else, Leung's disqualification and its aftermath show that the supposed political impartiality of our civil servants is a myth.

They will do as they are told by their superiors, even if it's against the public interest or against the law.

Leung's disqualification was a form of political censorship. And it set a very dangerous precedent.

By the same logic that Leung was disqualified implicitly for his pro-independence views, any public assembly that promotes those views can be banned or crushed by the police.

In the worst-case scenario, any political commentary or article that mentions the subject or deemed to support it can be censored.

All it takes is a phone call from a mainland official and surrogates will do the job, regardless of whether it's within their jurisdiction.

So what should Hongkongers do? It's easy. They can vote for pro-independence candidates.

Edward Leung might be gone but there are others who carry the banner of their movement and are still in the running.

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

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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HKEJ columnist