China’s Special Administrative Region (SAR), Hong Kong, has a partially autonomous political and legal system, including a limited form of democracy that has developed since its time under British colonial rule.
These boundaries and the government’s inability to continue the transition to full democracy have long been criticized by the city’s opposition and have sparked mass protests.
And, of course, there is much to solve.
Such victims include activist Joshua Wong, leader of the Umbrella 2014 movement, and other former student protesters, as well as pro-democracy candidates and numerous moderate lawmakers, including Dennis Kwok and Alvin Young.
Although candidates have been barred from standing in the past, and some have even been removed from office when they were elected, the large number of those banned this week and the broad excuses for doing so raise questions about whether there can be significant opposition in Hong Kong. .
The upcoming elections – currently scheduled for September 6 – will be the first since the entry into force of a new national security law criminalizing secession, sabotage, terrorism and foreign interference.
This law already had a significant effect, and it may have stopped the city’s protest movement in its path. Now, the government seems to be following its critics within the legislature.
Although the decision to ban 12 lawmakers was made by returning officers in various districts – low-level bureaucrats – both the Hong Kong and Chinese governments were quick to make statements in support of the move.
Under Hong Kong’s Basic Law, the city’s de facto constitution, future legislators must rely on “supporting” the constitution, a declaration that has been largely procedural in the past.
But citing a 2016 lawsuit banning the independence candidate, the government said in a statement that a promise to “uphold the Basic Law” means not only to abide by it, but also to support, promote and adopt it. ”
The government also cited examples of conduct that would lead to disqualification, including the promotion of Hong Kong’s independence or self-determination, or “requests for intervention by foreign governments or political bodies.”
Although this behavior is allowed in many democracies – both the British and Canadian parliaments include, for example, open secessionist parties – all of this has recently been illegal in Hong Kong under security law.
However, other examples are much more consistent with what this means to be opposition politician, including “expressing the intention” to “vote indiscriminately” on any legislative proposals, appointments, applications for funding and budgets introduced (by the government) to force the government to join certain political demands. ”
This is probably a response to the plan of some democratic camps, if they gain a majority in parliament to vote for the budget of leader Kerry Lam, which led to a constitutional crisis and possibly resignation.
Candidates should also be barred from expressing “fundamental objections” to the introduction of a security law. Although the government has promised that the law will not have retroactive effect, several returning officers have cited opposition to the law’s candidates as a reason for the ban, which could lead to many more disqualifications, given that virtually the entire pro-democracy movement has united in opposition to the law. .
Free and fair?
In a statement supporting the disqualification of candidates this week, and hinting at the future, the government said it was “not about any political censorship, restriction of freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for election, as some members of the community claim.”
“The Government of Hong Kong respects and protects the legitimate rights of the people of Hong Kong, including the right to vote and the right to stand for election. It is also obliged to comply with and uphold the Basic Law and ensure that all elections are conducted in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant election laws.” – is added in it.
However, the statement was immediately questioned by many, both inside and outside the city, including British Foreign Secretary Dominique Raab, who said in a statement that it was clear that the candidates “were disqualified because of their political views”. “.
“This move undermines the integrity of ‘one country, two systems’ and the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Joint Declaration and the Hong Kong Basic Law,” Raab added, referring to a system that guaranteed the city’s autonomy under international law until 2047.
Human rights groups, current lawmakers, political parties and other foreign governments have also criticized the move, and Amnesty International has said it has demonstrated “an intention to punish peaceful criticism and advocacy of opposing views.”
Although the election itself is currently in doubt due to the coronavirus – it is speculated that it could be postponed to next year – if it continues, it will probably not include many of the most popular or prominent pro-democracy figures in the city, and perhaps few serious candidates. opposition in general.
This proposal, put forward by Beijing in 2014, echoes how Hong Kong could elect its leader. Unlike the current system, where a tiny committee elects the chief executive, the Chinese government has said all Hong Kongers will vote – but Beijing will control who speaks.