Hong Kong, China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR), has a partially autonomous political and legal system, including the limited form of democracy that has developed since its time under British colonial rule.
These limits and the government’s inability to continue the transition to full democracy have long been criticized by the city’s opposition and sparked mass protest movements.
And there are definitely a lot of problems.
Those affected include activist Joshua Wong, leader of the Umbrel Movement in 2014, and other former student protesters, as well as candidates for the most part from pro-democracy parties and several moderate incumbents, including Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung.
While candidates have been expelled in the past, and some have even been removed from office once elected, the large number of those who were expelled this week and the general rationale given for this purpose raise questions about whether it is possible to have meaningful opposition. Hong Kong.
The upcoming elections – currently scheduled for September 6 – will be the first since the entry into force of a new law on national security that criminalizes secession, subversion, terrorism and foreign interference.
This law already had a major cooling effect and may have stopped the city’s protest movement in its footsteps. The government now appears to be coming after its critics in the legislature.
While decisions to exclude 12 lawmakers were made by returning officials in their various constituencies – low-level bureaucrats – both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments quickly issued statements in support of the move.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, future legislators must commit to “uphold” the constitution, a procedural declaration in the past.
However, the government refers to a lawsuit in 2016, which bans the candidate for independence. The government said in a statement that the promise to “keep” the basic law means not only its observance, but also the intention to support, promote and accept it. ”
The government also gave examples of behavior that could lead to disqualification, including advocating for Hong Kong’s independence or self-determination, or “requiring the intervention of foreign governments or political bodies.”
Although such behavior is tolerated in many democracies – for example, the British and Canadian parliaments include open-secessionist parties – they are all newly illegal under Hong Kong’s security law.
However, other examples are much more in line with what this means a flat opposition politicians, including “expressions of intent”, “unconditionally (vote) reject any legislative proposals, appointments, funding requests and budgets introduced (by the government) to force the government to accede to certain political demands.”
This seems to be a reaction to the plan of some in the pro-democracy camp, if they won a majority in the legislature, to reject leader Carrie Lam’s budget, force a constitutional crisis and possibly her resignation.
Candidates should be excluded if they express a “fundamental objection” to the adoption of the Security Act. And although the government promised that the law would not be retroactive, several returning officials cited candidates’ opposition to the law before it was enacted as a reason for blocking it, which could lead to many further disqualifications given that virtually the entire pro-democracy movement was united against the law. .
Free and fair?
The government said in a statement supporting the disqualification of candidates this week, suggesting that it would follow, “it is not about political censorship, restrictions on freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to run in elections, as some members of the community claim. ‘ ”
“(The Government of Hong Kong) shall respect and protect the legal rights of the people of Hong Kong, including the right to vote and to stand as a candidate in elections. It is also obliged to implement and uphold the Basic Law and to ensure that all elections take place. carried out in accordance with the Basic Law and the relevant electoral laws, “she added.
However, this claim was immediately disputed by many in and out of the city, including British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who said in a statement that it was clear that “they were disqualified for their political views”.
“This move undermines the integrity of ‘one country, two systems’ and the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Hong Kong Joint Declaration and Basic Law,” Raab added, referring to a system that guaranteed city autonomy under international law until 2047.
Human rights groups, current lawmakers, political parties and other foreign governments have also criticized the move, saying Amnesty International has shown that it has “shown the intention to punish peaceful criticism and advocacy.”
Although the election itself is currently in doubt due to the coronavirus – there are indications that it could be postponed to next year – if it continues, it seems likely that it will not include many of the most popular or significant pro-democracy figures in the city and perhaps few serious opposition candidates.
This proposal, presented by Beijing in 2014, reflects how Hong Kong could choose its leader. Unlike the current system, in which a small committee elects a leader, the Chinese government has said that all Hong Kong people will have a vote – but Beijing would have control over who stands.