Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has insisted that the current rules for disqualifying election candidates are “very clear”, after two pro-establishment figures conceded that this was not the case.
But the chief executive also said that “if there [was] a need to clarify the rules and the criteria by amending local legislation”, the government would “seriously consider” doing so.
Since last month, Hong Kong’s electoral officers have banned three activists from running in the Legislative Council by-election in March on the grounds that they were not considered to be “genuinely and truly intending to uphold the Basic Law”, the city’s mini-constitution.
Lau Siu-kai, a Hong Kong adviser to Beijing, said on Monday that the existing rules for disqualifying election hopefuls were not clear, while former Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing said the government should review electoral laws and come up with clear principles explicitly stating the grounds for disqualifying candidates.
Tsang said electoral officials in Hong Kong may have exceeded the scope of their duties when they barred the three opposition candidates.
The first to be disqualified was activist Agnes Chow Ting, who was barred on the grounds that her party advocated self-determination for the city. The two others were localists Ventus Lau Wing-hong and James Chan Kwok-keung, whom returning officers found had not genuinely changed their stance on Hong Kong independence.
When asked to comment on Lau Siu-kai and Tsang’s remarks, Lam said: “Up to this moment, the law is very clear, and we will act in accordance with the law insofar as deciding by the returning officer whether a candidate is eligible to become a qualified candidate in an election.”
“As far as the future situation is concerned … if there is a need to clarify the rules and the criteria by amending local legislation, of course the government will seriously consider that proposition,” Lam added.
The vetting of election candidates aroused heated debate at home and abroad, eliciting a statement from the European Union warning about the risk of diminishing Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society. But Lam rejected the EU’s criticism as foreign interference in the city’s internal affairs and denied that her administration had come under any pressure from Beijing to forbid candidates from running.
In the run-up to the Legco general election in 2016, returning officers also banned several pro-independence candidates from running. One of them, Andy Chan Ho-tin from the Hong Kong National Party, filed an electoral petition. The High Court finished a hearing on his case in May last year but has yet to make a ruling.
In a reference to Chan’s case, Lam on Tuesday said: “There is also a judicial review case in the court, which has yet to be decided and announced, so we will also take into account any court ruling and decision to address the question you asked, whether there is a need to amend local legislation,” she said.