Hong Kong’s decision to ban 12 Democratic candidates sets a major precedent and could mean the end of a meaningful political opposition in the city.
The group barred from running for the city’s legislature includes prominent student activist Joshua Wong, but also a moderate and four people, such as Alvin Young, who represents Hong Kong’s accountants.
More radical candidates were barred from running earlier, while others were barred from taking office after winning. But recent rulings suggest that the government even wants to remove hardened dissent from government halls. Many were elected in the primary election, which attracted hundreds of thousands of voters.
“Obviously, the Chinese Communist Party has decided to take the opportunity of the upcoming election to show the people of Hong Kong and the rest of the world that they have reworked the whole game,”; said Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University and a former democracy lawmaker.
“This is no longer one country, but two systems,” he said, referring to a system agreed on the eve of the transfer of Hong Kong from British colonial rule, which aimed to guarantee substantial autonomy for the city by 2047. “If the regime doesn’t even survive moderately, we are moving very fast towards a one-party system in Hong Kong.”
The disqualification was made by officers returning at a low level but probably sanctioned at much higher levels, said Kai Chi Leng, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communications at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“In last year’s district council election, we actually had an officer who returned who did not want to disqualify a candidate and had to ask for a sick note so that another person could take her place (and sign a document of imprisonment),” she said.
“It is likely that steps will be taken in this round to select returning officers so that this unpleasant situation does not happen again.”
Reasons for the ban included opposition to a controversial national security law that Beijing introduced last month, and efforts to lobby foreign governments for sanctions for human rights abuses.
These campaigns took place before the national security law came into force. But, concerned about the proliferation of the authorities, the returning officer said that earlier legal behavior gave an idea of the “true intentions” of the candidates, which led to their deprivation.
“This is an outrageous political purge of the Hong Kong Democrats,” said Chris Patten, the last British governor of Hong Kong. “It’s obviously illegal to believe in democracy now … it’s the kind of behavior you’d expect in a police state.”
There is little room for appeal; previous attempts to lift the disqualification were successful only for technical reasons, and the authorities will follow the procedure carefully this year.
In the same week of imprisonment, it was announced that a prominent professor had been fired for his democratic agitation and the arrest of four young activists who were threatening their lives in prison under the National Security Act.
There are also reports that the election may be postponed, leaving more room for effective dismantling of the political system that has given Hong Kong a limited form of democracy and autonomy for 23 years.
“This could mark the end of the opposition within the system, as election laws can be completely redesigned to make it impossible or irrelevant to lead the opposition again,” Leun said.