Rural election candidates may need to sign a confirmation form accepting that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, a new month-long consultation to amend election guidelines has suggested.
The consultation by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) concluded on July 11 and came ahead of rural representative elections next January.
The confirmation form, a non-legally binding document, was first introduced for the 2016 Legislative Council elections. Candidates have to pledge allegiance to Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and to uphold the Basic Law.
Prior to 2016, the requirements were already in place in candidate nomination forms. Since then, however, some candidates who signed the new document have been barred from standing for election, whilst others who did not sign were still allowed to run.
Rural election requirements
Any indigenous head of a village directly elected by residents can gain a seat on their district’s rural committee. A rural committee chair, elected by village heads, will then be granted a seat on the District Council. Rural committee chairs also become ex-officio member of the powerful rural body Heung Yee Kuk.
EAC Chair Barnabas Fung said the new requirement to pledge allegiance will be introduced to bring rural elections regulations in line with chief executive, Legislative Council and District Council elections.
Asked if candidates will be disqualified if they oppose the controversial Small House Policy, Fung said it will be determined by returning officers. Returning officers temporarily manage election affairs – a process in which the EAC “has no duties and no role,” Fung added.
Under the Small House Policy, male indigenous villagers who are descendants of a male line from a recognised village may apply to build a small house of up to three storeys high. A home may be constructed on either their own land at zero premium, or on public land through a private treaty grant, once during their lifetime.
Article 40 of the Basic Law stipulates that “The lawful traditional rights and interests of the indigenous inhabitants of the ‘New Territories’ shall be protected by the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.”
A application filed by the “king of judicial review” Kwok Cheuk-kin to challenge the policy was approved by a court in 2016, and will be heard by the end of this year. The policy is often criticised for prompting the illegal transfer of land rights for profit, despite it being a criminal offence to sell such rights to developers.