Democrats have criticised the government as abusing its power in barring lawmaker Eddie Chu from a village election. They said on Monday that the move would harm Hong Kong’s status internationally.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Chu was barred from running in the election for Yuen Kong San Tsuen, a village of around 100 constituents in Pat Heung, Yuen Long, on Sunday.
The move followed his response to a question that was deemed to be “implicitly confirming” his support for Hong Kong independence as an option for Hong Kong people. The question was posed by election officer Enoch Yuen last month. Chu said on Monday that he would consider taking legal action, calling the decision “ridiculous“.
Chu has said repeatedly that he does not support independence, though he does support self-determination for Hongkongers. He said that the Basic Law protects independence-related speech, so long as it is peaceful.
“This is very dangerous,” said Labour Party lawmaker Fernando Cheung in response to Chu’s barring, speaking at a joint press conference with other democrats. He expressed concern that the government’s “political red line” would continue to move in a way that would force everyone to make declarations of loyalty to China.
“Will there be one day that we have to make such a declaration to show our loyalty when we go to study, register for something, run for class monitor, or apply for a passport?” he said.
Cheung went on to say that government was not following the law as it did not give them the power to make such rulings. “The government just liberally crosses the line,” he said.
Democrats said the election officer had no power to screen candidates in a village election given that a village chief is not a public official. Article 104 of the Basic Law rules that public officials must pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.
Public officials include the chief executive, principal officials, members of the Executive Council and of the Legislative Council, judges of the courts at all levels and other members of the judiciary.
Pro-democracy camp convener Claudia Mo echoed Cheung’s complaints, strongly condemning the move. She accused the government of trying to control the outcome of all elections.
“Amidst the Sino-American trade war, we can see that what just happened would just further convince the international community that Hong Kong’s freedoms are under severe attack, and that ‘One Country, Two Systems’ are fast fading away, and if Hong Kong gets caught in the crossfire, [Chief Executive] Carrie Lam would definitely prove a sinner of history in Hong Kong,” she said.
“They are trying to wrap Hong Kong in white terror.”
Executive Councillor Ronny Tong has compared Chu’s disqualification to jaywalking: People get away with it, but this does not make the behaviour legal, he argued.
Lawmaker Ray Chan, of People Power Party, said Tong’s analogy was “ridiculous” as there are clear laws regulating jaywalking, though there are no clear rules for running in elections.
“The so-called red light over election rights can be moved anywhere by the government,” he said. “Now there is a red light in your mouth, a red light in your brain.”
When asked how he would respond to a question about his stance on independence as an option for self-determination if he were to run for the 2020 legislative election, Eddie Chu did not answer directly. But he did say that democrats support freedom of speech.
“Democrats have always had this liberal core value: I do not agree with you, but I will defend your freedom of speech. Now this may be challenged [by the government] – this is a problem for democrats,” he said.
Earlier on Monday, pro-Beijing lawmakers reacted to Eddie Chu’s disqualification by suggesting he should also be barred from the Legislative Council.