The Hong Kong government has barred pro-democracy candidate Agnes Chow from running in the March legislative by-elections, saying that she unlawfully advocates self-determination.

UPDATE: Hong Kong ban on pro-democracy election hopeful Agnes Chow ‘illegal and groundless’, party says

Chow submitted forms on January 18 to run in the Hong Kong Island constituency. The government issued a press release on Saturday morning saying that an election officer has made a decision that “the nomination of a candidate was invalid as she did not comply with section 40(1)(b)(i) of the Legislative Council Ordinance,” without naming Chow.

“‘Self-determination’ or changing the HKSAR system by referendum which includes the choice of independence is inconsistent with the constitutional and legal status of the HKSAR as stipulated in the Basic Law, as well as the established basic policies of the PRC regarding Hong Kong,” the release said.

Agnes Chow
Agnes Chow. Photo: Facebook.

“Upholding the Basic Law is a basic legal duty of a legislator. If a person advocates or promotes self-determination or independence by any means, he or she cannot possibly uphold the Basic Law or fulfil his or her duties as a legislator.”

The government said it agrees with and supports the decision. It also said returning officers “have the duty as well as power to make those decisions according to the relevant electoral laws.”

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Acting Chief Executive Matthew Cheung read the statement in front of reporters without taking questions on Saturday.

‘Cannot possibly comply’

Legislative Council Ordinance 40(1)(b)(i) states that a person is not validly nominated as a candidate for an election for a constituency unless they sign a declaration in the nomination form to the effect that the person will uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Interview: Pro-democracy by-election candidate Agnes Chow: who is she and why does she want your vote?

“The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws, since advocating or promoting ‘self-determination’ is contrary to the content of the declaration that the law requires a candidate to make to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR,” the government said.  “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”

basic law
Photo: HKFP.

Chow is of the Demosisto party which supports the notion of self-determination. Beijing denounced the idea as equal to advocating for Hong Kong independence – a suggestion rejected by Chow and the party.

In an interview with HKFP on Thursday, she said: “Demosisto advocates self-determination, which is about civil liberties, universal suffrage, and the ability to make life choices and not follow rules made by big businesses working in cahoots with the government. It’s completely different from advocating independence.”

In 2016, Demosisto’s Joshua Wong said the party wished to hold a public vote on Hong Kong’s status: “Independence should be one of the options inside the self-determination referendum.”

Au Nok-hin
Au Nok-hin. Photo: In-Media.-h

The party’s chairman – former lawmaker Nathan Law – was also disqualified last year over his oath of office. The party will hold a press conference at 1:30 pm.

Southern District Councillor Au Nok-hin, former convener of the annual July 1 pro-democracy march organiser Civil Human Rights Front, is set to replace Chow as the democrats’ nominee.

Independent candidate Edward Yum and New People’s Party candidate Judy Chan have also submitted nomination forms to run on Hong Kong Island.

Oath taking saga

The March by-elections are taking place to replace four lawmakers ousted by courts over their oaths. 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.

In the 2016 legislative election, election officers barred five contenders from running because they did not accept that they would “uphold the Basic Law” – a proviso for entering the race. Candidates were also asked to sign pledges in which they promise to uphold the mini-constitution and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

Convener of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party Chan Ho-tin filed an election petition against the electoral officer’s apparent power to disqualify candidates after his bid was rejected in 2016. The hearing was completed last May, but the High Court has still not delivered a verdict on the matter. Edward Leung, then-spokesperson of localist group Hong Kong Indigenous, and advocate of Hong Kong’s return to the United Kingdom Alice Lai both also filed election petitions after they were barred from running.

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.