(From Radio Free Asia)
One in three candidates hoping to run in elections to Hong Kong’s legislature on Sept. 4 have refused to sign a declaration accepting Chinese rule and renouncing independence for the city, election officials said.
The office handling nominations for candidacy in the Legislative Council (LegCo) poll says it 33 received applications on Saturday, the first day of a two-week nomination period, the Hong Kong Economic Journal (HKEJ) reported.
“Nearly a third did not sign the declaration which also includes a pledge of allegiance to the Hong Kong government,” the paper said.
The new form, which requires candidates to accept that Hong Kong is “an inalienable part of China,” appears to be aimed at ruling out those who campaign for greater autonomy for the city, or outright independence from Beijing.
Officials have given out mixed messages, with some saying that a refusal to sign would invalidate a candidate, and the nominations office saying it will process all applications regardless.
A number of pan-democratic candidates and those open to the idea of independence have said they won’t sign the form, which they have slammed as a further attack of freedom of speech in the former British colony, which was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms for 50 years after the 1997 handover to China.
‘None of us signed’
Pro-independence Hong Kong National Party convenor and LegCo hopeful Andy Chan said none of his party’s candidates had signed.
“None of us signed the declaration form, because we don’t think it was crucial to hand it over as part of the application process,” Chan told RFA on Tuesday.
“There will be no legal problems if we don’t, so we’re not going to do something that is unnecessary.”
But he said it remains unclear how the government will treat such applicants for nomination.
“I think the whole aim of this declaration was to rule out pro-independence candidates,” Chan said. “I’m not sure that they can actually achieve that [under existing election rules], however.”
“If they try, they will face much bigger legal and political consequences,” said Chan.
Candidate Wong Chun-kit from the youth activism group Youngspiration said he had declined to sign the form, too.
“The government is trying to strip us of our right to stand for election,” Wong told RFA. “They will be responsible for the consequences.”
“The greater the suppression, the greater the backlash that will follow,” he warned.
Edward Leung of the localist group Hong Kong Indigenous also refused to sign the declaration when he filed his candidacy on Saturday, HKEJ reported.
Beijing University law professor Rao Geping, a constitutional scholar who serves on Hong Kong’s Basic Law Committee, said the declaration is a political requirement that is consistent with the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and China’s own constitution.
But Hong Kong barrister Linda Wong said there are no legal grounds requiring candidates to sign it.
“There isn’t any way for them to stop a candidate running in the election, just because they didn’t sign the form,” Wong told government broadcaster RTHK.
“However I look at this, I can’t see anything that mentions any kind of legal basis for this declaration, and the electoral officer can only prevent someone’s candidacy for the strongest of reasons,” Wong said.
“Of course, if things did go [that far], I think the matter would definitely be settled in court.”
Eligibility not affected
Meanwhile, members of the pan-democratic camp have quoted the chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission, judge Barnabas Fung, as saying that the new form isn’t mandated in law, RTHK reported.
The Civic Party’s Dennis Kwok said the form had been brought in for “administrative convenience,” and that candidates’ eligibility would not be affected if they refuse to sign it. Kwok called for the form to be scrapped.
Beijing officials have defended the declaration, however, saying that Hong Kong’s government is obliged to “safeguard national sovereignty.”
Pro-Beijing lawmakers have said potential candidates should reflect on their own loyalties before signing up to fight the election.
Of 70 seats in LegCo, 35 will be returned through direct ballot in five geographical constituencies, while the remainder are chosen by members of trades, professions, and industry groupings.
The city was promised a “high degree of autonomy” under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule within the “one country, two systems” framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
However, China’s cabinet, the State Council, has said such autonomy is still subject to the will of Beijing.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA’s Cantonese Service, and by Xin Lin for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.
Copyright Radio Free Asia 2016