Political rights

Hong Kong’s Great Leap Back on Political Rights


If you were tasked with organizing an election that looked democratic, but actually ensured that your side had the upper hand, how would you do it? You will find ways to restrict who can run, who can vote, and what they can vote for.

This week, Hong Kong officials – having refused for years to budge on who could vote and what people could vote for in the selection of Hong Kong’s top official, the managing director – took a step massive back. They decided to restrict the candidates by disqualifying Demosisto party candidate Agnes Chow and Community Network Union Ventus Lau in the upcoming Legislative Council by-elections.

Three years ago, during the Umbrella Movement, tens of thousands of people in Hong Kong called for universal suffrage for the selection of the chief executive. The governments of Beijing and Hong Kong have not kept this promise, guaranteed by the Basic Law. And they have targeted the semi-democratic Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo), a vital and high-profile platform for pro-democracy leaders in a city increasingly gagged by media censorship.

From 2016, authorities banned pro-democracy figures from running for LegCo seats or ousted them after their election.

The Hong Kong authorities not only violate basic rights, but they also risk alienating large sections of the population.

In 2016, the Hong Kong Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) added a new requirement that all candidates wishing to appear at Legco must complete a “confirmation form”, in which candidates affirm that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, a requirement which infringes the right to peaceful expression. Two pro-democracy candidates – Edouard Leung indigenous people from Hong Kong and Andy chan of the Hong Kong National Party – were disqualified because their pro-independence positions were deemed “incompatible with the Basic Law”.

Following the 2016 LegCo elections, in which a number of declared pro-democracy candidates won, Beijing intervened. He issued an “interpretation” of the Basic Law that forced Hong Kong courts to disqualify two lawmakers who explicitly argued for Hong Kong independence. This court decision subsequently resulted in the disqualification of four more pro-democracy lawmakers.

The disqualification of Chow by the authorities is doubly problematic. Not only does this penalize his right to free speech, but it also suggests a tougher government line against even those who simply plead for “self-determination” – the idea that Hong Kong people should make decisions about it. Hong Kong’s political and socio-economic status. developments, a concept which is “completely different from that of advocating independence”, according to Chow.

The grounds for Lau’s disqualification are even more dubious. The EAC told Lau – who publicly defended independence in 2016 – that he was not “sincere” when he relinquished that position in December. The officer cited Lau’s three Facebook posts and alleged that Lau presented himself as the successor to pro-independence figures Edward Leung and Baggio Leung and that Lau obtained approval from Baggio Leung. Banning anyone from standing for election solely on the basis of their peaceful political views violates their basic human rights to stand for election, which is guaranteed by the Basic Law.

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The EAC is a statutory body whose decisions are obligatory be “independent, impartial and apolitical”. Yet Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng, a political appointment, has openly recognized his personal involvement in the decision regarding Chow’s candidacy. Election authorities gave no explanation as to why Chow’s party platform does not comply with the Basic Law. And in Lau’s case, it is deeply troubling that an EAC officer pretends to judge a candidate’s suitability to run not only by his political stance, but also by his presumed sincerity. That other pro-democracy candidates who have not signed the “confirmation form” be allowed to run reinforces the arbitrariness of the Chow and Lau decisions.

It’s unclear whether Chow and Lau intend to appeal the ruling to court, but the court has yet to render a decision on the challenges filed by Leung and Chan over a year ago. Pro-democracy candidates wonder where they stand vis-à-vis Beijing and the Hong Kong government’s acceptability barometer, which likely colder expression.

Chow’s disqualification also means that no member of any of the political groups that came out of the Umbrella Movement – mostly made up of young people – has been able to stand for LegCo elections or represent voters once elected. The Hong Kong authorities not only violate basic rights, but they also risk alienating large sections of the population who support such voices.

The Hong Kong authorities have the essential laws to resist the obligation to comply with Beijing’s orders. That they do not apply them to protect the rights of the people of Hong Kong is an alarming development.