The Hong Kong Democratic opposition had high hopes of winning, for the first time, a majority in the legislative elections scheduled for September 6 in the autonomous territory. This Thursday, those hopes have suffered a probably fatal blow: the electoral commission has disqualified the candidacies of 12 prominent candidates, including the well-known activist Joshua Wong and three sitting deputies, and does not rule out further invalidation in the near future. It is a decision that, in the opinion of the opposition, adds to the erosion of the system of freedoms in the enclave and calls into question the very legitimacy of the elections.
The Hong Kong Home Rule Government has expressed its support for the exclusions. In a statement, he assures that defending self-determination, requesting the intervention of foreign governments or “expressing an objection in principle” to the new National Security law imposed by Beijing are some of the behaviors that “prevent genuinely respecting” the enclave’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law. Abiding by the Basic Law is a requirement sine qua non so that a candidate can stand for election.
For the autonomous Executive, an applicant also deserves disqualification for “expressing the intention to exercise his functions as a deputy, systematically voting against” any proposal of the local Government, if the opposition wins the majority, “to force the Government to agree to certain political demands “
In addition to Wong, among the disqualified candidates are several well-known deputies from the opposition caucus, such as Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung, of the Civic Party, and councilors elected in the municipal elections last November, such as former student leader Lester Shum or Tiffany Yuen , a former member of the Demosisto party that Wong founded and dissolved hours before the National Security law came into effect on June 30.
“Election officials continue to review the validity of other candidacies in accordance with current regulations. We do not rule out the possibility that more applications will be invalidated, ”indicates the statement from the autonomous Executive.
The government headed by the chief minister, Carrie Lam, assures that the decision does not represent “any political censorship, restriction of freedom of expression or deprivation of the right to participate in elections, as some members of the community have alleged.”
The Chinese central government was even tougher. In a statement, its liaison office in Hong Kong justified the disqualification by asking “how the Hong Kong legislative body (…) could have allowed these unscrupulous criminals in their House who want to destroy the principle ‘one country, two systems’ (which governs the Hong Kong political system) and the prosperity of Hong Kong? ”
In a statement, Joshua Wong has confirmed his exclusion, “despite having been the most voted candidate in the primaries.” “Beijing has shown absolute contempt for the will of Hong Kong people, passes over the last pillar of autonomy that is fading in the city and tries to keep the Legislative under their firm control,” says the former student leader. Among the reasons he has received for his disqualification, he explains, the official who has examined his case alleges that he has described the National Security law as “draconian.”
The invalidation of the 12 nominations represents a severe blow to the opposition, which needs to gather at least 35 seats to realize its dream of wresting most of the party from China for the first time since the former British colony began holding legislative elections in 1991. The system turns this aspiration into something especially complicated: only 30 seats, corresponding to the geographic electoral constituencies, are decided by direct vote of the population. The rest are allocated in votes by sector of work activity.
This month, to prevent the vote from spreading among several candidates, the opposition had held informal primaries to decide their nominations. 610,000 people participated in them, despite the fact that the autonomous government warned that this call could be illegal.
All in all, the very future of the September electoral call may be in doubt. Throughout this week, the local press has conjectured with the possibility that the autonomous government announced, perhaps this Friday, a postponement of the elections for at least a full year, with the argument of the rebound of cases of covid-19 that suffers from the former British colony.
This Wednesday the enclave detected its highest number of daily infections since the beginning of the pandemic, 149, almost all of them –145– of local transmission. In total, since January accumulates more than 3,000 cases. But supporters of the Democratic movement consider that a postponement, especially one as long as it is conjectured, simply uses the coronavirus as an excuse and actually seeks to make the opposition lose electoral momentum and be unable to win the majority in the autonomous Parliament.
The disqualifications announced this Thursday come after the Hong Kong Police confirmed the arrest last night of four young activists, aged between 16 and 21, under the National Security law. All four were former militants of a Hong Kong pro-independence group dissolved hours before the draconian rule came into force, including its founder Tony Chung, 19. They are the first arrests under that law that do not occur in street demonstrations. “They wanted to unite all the pro-independence groups in Hong Kong to promote the idea of independence,” said the Police at a press conference.
These arrests represent “a significant and alarming moment for the right to freedom of expression in the city. According to the statements of the Police, the detainees have been detained solely for expressing their opinions peacefully, ”said Nicolas Bequelin, director for Asia-Pacific at Amnesty International.