Former lawmaker Lau Siu-lai has accused the government of “violently twisting” her words in order to disqualify her from the upcoming Kowloon West legislative by-election.
Lau’s nomination was declared invalid on Friday, making her the ninth person in Hong Kong to be barred from running for office. At a protest on Friday night, Lau said she was discussing with her team about possibly fighting the decision in court.
Lau dismissed the government’s arguments against her, saying that the reasons provided by Returning Officer Franco Kwok “made absolutely no sense.”
“When I heard that I was once again disqualified, I was furious – because this was without basis, and totally distorted the political beliefs I held since 2016,” she said.
The Kowloon West by-election will be held on November 25 and its two-week nomination period started last Tuesday. Lau handed in her nomination on the first day, but was kept in the dark as to its validity until Friday.
Kwok explained in a seven-page letter that he did not accept Lau’s confirmation form – a document introduced in 2016 where prospective candidates must state their intention to uphold the Basic Law.
“After considering all relevant materials, I believe that Lau’s political stance has consistently been a) in support of Hong Kongers’ right to self-determination, which includes independence as an option, and b) in complete rejection of the Central People’s Government’s authority to govern Hong Kong,” Kwok wrote.
Kwok cited a statement Lau made in 2016, which said that she – along with political group Demosisto and lawmaker Eddie Chu – would defend Hong Kong independence as an option if residents were allowed self-determination.
Kwok also cited one of Lau’s Facebook posts as well as media reports from Ming Pao and Wen Wei Po. He said that Lau had recently deleted parts of her political platform on self-determination, but he concluded that the deleted portions had been Lau’s political view all along, and their removal was “nothing more than a plot” to reduce liability.
Lau said that Kwok had not made contact with her before barring her from the race: “We gave a lot of time to the Electoral Affairs Commission, but they never asked my opinion, and never raised any doubts. I was not given a chance to defend myself,” she said.
The High Court ruled in February that electoral officials have the power to disqualify candidates, but must give them a “reasonable opportunity” to respond before doing so.
When she declared her candidacy in September, Lau said that she does not support Hong Kong independence and only referred to “self-determination” in the context of community empowerment.
Pro-democracy lawmakers staged a protest march outside government headquarters in Admiralty around 8:30 pm on Friday, just an hour after news broke that Lau was disqualified.
The Labour Party’s Lee Cheuk-yan had previously been confirmed as a backup candidate. He submitted his nomination earlier in the day. Lau had said that she would fully support Lee’s bid now that she was out of the running.
Lee said he was gearing up for the fight: “Someone asked me, ‘So unfair, why do you participate?’ Yes it is so unfair, but how do we make it fair? It’s not by dropping out, it’s by really getting the seat back, and fighting in the system to get fairness.”
Lee also criticised the disqualification, comparing it to mainland China where some criminals are stripped of their rights to political participation for life.
Asked if her political career had ended for good, Lau said that the question should be posed to Chief Executive Carrie Lam and head of the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau Patrick Nip.
“What is their basis for taking away people’s right to stand for election? This is for them to answer, not me,” she said. “Is it that we have to kneel before the government… before it will let us participate in politics?”
About 20 pro-democracy lawmakers and activists marched from Civic Square to the chief executive’s office under a light drizzle. Holding back tears, Lau ripped up the returning officer’s letter before cameras and chanted “Carrie Lam resign.”
A public rally to protest Lau’s disqualification is scheduled for Saturday evening.
National security ‘red line’
Twenty-four pro-democracy lawmakers signed a joint statement on Friday condemning the disqualification, saying that the government was “shamelessly” suppressing voices of dissent, and demanded a full explanation from the chief executive, the secretary for justice and the Electoral Affairs Commission.
“The reasons given by the government are completely unreasonable. It’s so obvious to anyone with a right mind,” said pro-democracy camp convener Claudia Mo.
The Hong Kong government issued a statement on Friday evening in support of the returning officer’s decision, and said there was “no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections.”
Starry Lee, chairperson of the pro-Beijing DAB party, said that banning Lau from the by-election helped protect the dignity of the Basic Law, and was in line with Hong Kong’s long term interests.
Another pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin said that anyone who touches on the “red line” of national security must be prepared to face consequences.
As of October 12, declared candidates for the Kowloon West by-election includes Lee, former pan-democrat Frederick Fung and pro-establishment newcomer Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan.