Joshua Wong ban undermines public confidence in election system

October 31, 2019 12:37
Democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to the media on Oct 29 after he was barred from contesting in Hong Kong’s upcoming District Council election. Photo: HKEJ

After almost a month of wrestling with two different returning officers, i.e. Dorothy Ma Chow Pui-fun and Laura Aron Liang, over his candidacy, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung found himself disqualified from the District Council election.

In her letter to Wong, Aron, the acting district officer (Southern) who was named the returning officer for the Southern District last Thursday, explained to Wong point-by-point why he was barred from seeking a DC seat from the South Horizons West constituency.

For example, she said she has reasons to believe that Wong wasn’t genuine in his claim that he didn’t support Hong Kong’s independence as an option for self-determination.

Yet Aron’s letter has failed to allay suspicions among the public about the true motives behind Wong’s disqualification.

A source among the political circles has defended the government, arguing that the acting returning officer was justified in having doubts about whether Wong has dissociated himself from the doctrine of the Demosistō group that he co-founded.

It is because even though Wong didn’t cite Demosistō as his political affiliation in the nomination form, he has never withdrawn from the group, and is still serving as its secretary general, not to mention that he has once told the returning officer in one of his replies that his stance had never changed.

“In fact the more lengthy his reply is, the more likely it would be for the returning officer to find fault with it,” the source said.

The person then went on to say that the outcome could perhaps have been different if Wong had just answered “yes” or “no” in no uncertain terms like Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, another pro-democracy activist who sought to join the DC race did in his nomination form.

However, a pan-dem who is participating in the electioneering of the opposition camp has said that no matter how justifiable the arguments laid down in the returning officer’s letter may seem, if one goes through all the letters between Wong and the returning officers over the past month carefully, it isn’t actually difficult to tell that the government was deliberately nitpicking at Wong.

Apparently, the pan-dem said, Wong was held against a different set of standards by the returning officers in relation to his nomination, compared to how returning officers from other constituencies treated candidates.

The person believes Wong’s disqualification won't have a big impact on the election outcome of the South Horizons West constituency, because pro-democracy voters are very likely to switch to the “Plan B” candidate of the pan-dems, i.e. Kelvin Lam Ho-por.

Meanwhile, another political figure said that while it wouldn’t have been difficult for the government to play the “gotcha game” with Wong, the administration definitely owes the public a clear answer as to why it took almost a month to finally declare the “death penalty” on Wong whereas some other candidates were given the green light in just a week.

Speaking of the returning officer, under the existing mechanism, it is entirely up to the officer to decide whether an individual is eligible to run in the DC or Legislative Council elections.

An Administrative Officer (AO) has revealed that back in 2016, the government internally studied whether the returning officer system should come up for review, but the study ended up in nothing.

If the government continues to make individual civil servants take the political responsibility for disqualification and allows their disqualification to become a norm, it wouldn't be good, the AO said.

Shutting the door on election aspirants would be tantamount to denying a channel for the citizens to make their grievances heard, something which could have huge negative consequences, the civil servant added.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 31

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Columnist of Hong Kong Economic Journal.