Lee Cheuk-yan of the pro-democracy Labour Party has entered the Kowloon West by-election on Friday morning, serving as the backup candidate for his party colleague Lau Siu-lai.

Lee said the government’s ability to disqualify candidates made for an “unfair” election, but said that he would fight for the seat on behalf of the pro-democracy camp. He added that he will withdraw from the race if Lau is confirmed as a candidate.

Lau Siu-lai Lee Cheuk-yan
From left: Lee Cheuk-yan and Lau Siu-lai. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“The pro-establishment camp has support from the Central government, but people’s hearts and minds are the most important. No matter how much money and resources we are facing, as long as the pro-democracy camp wins over the people we will win,” Lee told reporters on Friday.

The by-election for the West Kowloon constituency will be held on November 25, and the two-week nomination period began on October 2. Lau handed in her application form on the first day, as did potential challenger Frederick Fung. The pro-establishment candidate Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan – also known as Yan – submitted her form on October 3.

Lau said on Friday that she had not yet been contacted by the election’s Returning Office Franco Kwok Wai-fun, and said the government was “playing dirty” by keeping her in the dark. There had been enough time for the returning officer to contact her if there was a problem with her application, she said.

Lee Cheuk-yan, lau siu-lai
Lau Siu-lai and Lee Cheuk-yan. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

“If I am disqualified, I will use my every effort to [support Lee] and help the pro-democracy camp win back this crucial seat,” she said.

Citing an unidentified source, Singtao Daily reported on Friday that the election’s returning officer would notify Lau as early as Friday that she was barred from running.

The report said that Lau would be disqualified on the basis of not having the intention to uphold the Basic Law, because she protested during the Legislative Council swearing in ceremony in 2016.

Kowloon West by-election

Lau was elected to the Legislative Council in 2016 with more than 38,000 votes, the highest of pro-democracy candidates in the Kowloon West geographical constituency.

Lau Siu-lai legco
Lau Siu-lai taking her oath. Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

She was disqualified as a lawmaker in 2017, along with five other non-establishment colleagues, because the court ruled she did not take her oath properly. The by-election for her seat was set in November after Lau gave up appealing the court decision in May.

See also: Interview: Can ousted lawmaker Lau Siu-lai win back her seat in a time of ‘absurd’ politics?

Lau previously told HKFP that she would not speculate on the possibility of disqualification because “there is no point in calculating [the odds] in the face of absurdity.”

“We have entered an absurd situation and a reckless government; how can you calculate the odds of being disqualified?” she said at the time. “We can only say that we will face uncertainty with the greatest will.”

Lau formally announced her decision to run again in September with the broad support of pan-democrat and localist parties. However, some in the pro-democracy camp have criticised the fact that Lau’s backup candidate was not chosen via a primary election.

lau siu lai
Photo: HKFP/Holmes Chan.

Frederick Fung, formerly of the pro-democracy party ADPL, said he joined the election not to challenge Lau, but only to protest at what he called the “anti-democratic” selection of Lee as Plan B.

On Friday, candidates who have submitted the application form for the Kowloon West by-election include Lau, Fung and Chan. Neither Fung nor Chan has received confirmation as to whether their application is valid.

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.