Disqualified lawmaker Edward Yiu and Demosisto candidate Agnes Chow have urged returning officers to “remain committed to the principle of political neutrality” amid speculation that they will be barred from running in the March legislative by-election.

Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man confirmed on Thursday afternoon that election officers sought legal advice from the Secretary for Justice on the eligibility of nominees in the Hong Kong Island, Kowloon West and New Territories East constituencies. On Thursday, reports from pro-establishment newspapers Oriental Daily and Sing Tao Daily cited unnamed sources as saying that the duo will be barred from running.

A joint statement from Yiu and Chow stated that neither had received any confirmation notices from the Electoral Affairs Commission, although they had submitted all required documents and there was “a lack of reasonable legal basis” to invalidate the nominations they had received.

Agnes Chow and Edward Yiu. Photo: In-Media.

“The political freedoms and fundamental civil rights are equally and impartially enjoyed by the Hong Kong people. Disqualifying Dr. Yiu and Chow without any reasonable legal basis would cause grave and irreversible damage to rule of law.”

“We hereby urge the Returning Officer(s) to confirm the candidacy of both nominees on or before 26 January (Friday).”

Yiu also said on his Facebook page that if he was barred from running, it would be “a declaration of war by the authoritarian [regime] against the rule of law – this is political manipulation without any legal basis.”

“To disqualify Agnes Chow would be the disqualification of the political rights of a whole political camp. Today it will be Agnes Chow, tomorrow it will be Joshua Wong, even Eddie Chu will never be able to run again – they are being stripped of their political rights for their whole lives.”

The March by-elections are taking place to replace four lawmakers ousted by courts over the controversial ways in which they took their oaths of office. Six lawmakers were disqualified by the courts in total, but two appeals filed by Lau Siu-lai and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung have yet to be completed.

Pro-democracy convener Charles Mok (centre left); Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man (centre right). Photo: Handout.

Yiu was elected a lawmaker through the architectural sector constituency in 2016 and disqualified in July last year. He switched to the Kowloon West constituency in the by-election to try to regain the seat of another disqualified lawmaker.

Chow belongs to the Demosisto party, which supports the notion of self-determination, a position denounced by high-ranking Beijing official Li Fei as equal to advocating for Hong Kong independence. The party’s chairman Nathan Law was also disqualified last year for his oath of office. Chow submitted nominations to run in the Hong Kong Island constituency.

On Thursday, pro-democracy lawmakers marched to Teresa Cheng’s office demanding a meeting. They said Cheng should not be involved in the nomination process because she is also in charge of cases related to lawmakers’ disqualifications. The lawmakers also met with Chief Electoral Officer Wong See-man, who said candidates will receive their confirmations on or before January 31, a day before the candidate briefing.

“We cannot accept that a returning officer has the power or indeed the responsibility to decide on behalf of the Hong Kong people who can run in an election and who cannot,” legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said.

“This is not something that Hong Kong people would accept, and this is not something that we expect the returning officer to do. The choice remains with the Hong Kong people as to who should become a legislative councillor… This is not rule of law but rule by man.”

Teresa Cheng. Photo: Citizen News.

After the oath-taking controversy in 2016, Beijing issued an interpretation of the Basic Law demanding lawmakers must take their oaths solemnly and accurately. But Kwok said the interpretation did not provide any legal basis to bar nominees from running.

Since they starting preparing for the election last month, Yiu and Chow have often been asked about the risk of being barred from running. Both have substitute candidates from other parties lined up. Yiu and Chow will likely be replaced by district councillors Ramon Yuen and Au Nok-hin respectively.

Pro-democracy candidate Paul Zimmerman received confirmation of his candidacy for the architectural sector seat on Thursday.

Ramon Yuen; Au nok-hin. Photo: In-Media.

Vincent Cheng of Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and Judy Chan of New People’s Party have submitted nomination forms to run in the Kowloon West and Hong Kong Island constituencies respectively. Edward Yum also submitted a nomination form to run in the Hong Kong Island constituency on Thursday.

Former lawmaker Tony Tse submitted a nomination form to run in the architectural sector on Thursday.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.