Hong Kong’s professional body of solicitors elected five members to its governing council on Thursday, with four out of five spots going to candidates favoured by the pro-establishment camp.

Lawyer and university lecturer Eric Cheung, who also sits on the Law Society Council, previously shared a screenshot alleging that some candidates were backed by Beijing’s office in Hong Kong. Cheung said a lawyer friend sent him a screenshot of WhatsApp messages saying,”the China Liaison Office hopes that you would elect the following individuals.”

Four of the lawyers referred to in the message – newcomers Doreen Kong, Calvin Cheng, Chris Yu as well as incumbent Roden Tong – won seats at the council on Thursday. Kong ran for District Council in 2015 as a member of the pro-establishment New People’s Party, and organised a 2014 silent protest opposing the Umbrella Movement.

The remaining seat went to rights lawyer Mark Daly, who was the frontrunner with 1,902 votes. Daly was on the Council from 2015 to 2018 but lost his seat in a surprise defeat last year.

Aside from Daly, the winning candidates received the bulk of their votes through proxy ballots, which ranged from 68 to 73 per cent of their total vote count. Critics have argued that the proxy vote arrangement allows bosses to exert pressure on younger lawyers, by asking them to hand over their ballots so they may vote on their behalf.

Mark Daly
Human rights lawyer Mark Daly. Photo: Holmes Chan/HKFP.

Similar to a pattern last year, candidates not aligned with the pro-establishment camp received far fewer proxy votes, but made up for the shortfall with postal ballots.

Among the unsuccessful candidates was lawyer Louise Wong, who along with Daly were the only ones to publicly call on the government to withdraw its controversial extradition bill. Hong Kong proposed controversial legal amendments in February to allow the city to handle case-by-case extradition requests from jurisdictions with no prior agreements – most notably China and Taiwan.

On Thursday evening, Cheung told reporters that he did not feel that the extradition debacle had increased the voter turnout, which had been consistently low. But he said he was troubled by the proxy vote system: “When there are proxy votes, can that really reflect a person’s free choice?” he said.

As for the China Liaison Office’s interference, Cheung said he had already heard rumours about it last year but only recently saw written messages to that effect.

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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.