The Hong Kong Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) has announced a sudden change in the returning officer overseeing the area where activist Joshua Wong is running in for the upcoming District Council election.

Wong submitted his application on October 4 to run in the South Horizons West constituency, but his nomination was neither confirmed nor denied by Thursday. The nomination period ended on October 17. All other people who submitted nomination forms to run have been confirmed as candidates.

Joshua Wong
Joshua Wong. File photo:

District Officer (Southern) Dorothy Ma was acting as the returning officer for the Southern District, responsible for election affairs. Ma had asked Wong about his political stance twice. Wong said he responded to Ma’s second enquiry on October 16 but has not yet received a reply.

In a rare turn of events, the EAC said in a statement on Thursday afternoon that it had received news that Ma was on leave due to illness.

Dorothy Ma
Dorothy Ma. Photo: GovHK.

District Officer (Yau Tsim Mong) Laura Liang Aron will temporarily take over Ma’s role as the returning officer for South Horizons West until further notice, according to the EAC.

A briefing session for confirmed candidates was scheduled to be held at 8pm on Thursday at AsiaWorld-Expo. The EAC said that the session for the South Horizons West area has been postponed because a nomination form – referring to Wong’s – was still being checked.

On Thursday morning, Wong went to Ma’s office to ask her whether any progress had been made in confirming his election candidacy, but Ma was not present.

Wong said he was told that Ma took leave on Thursday, despite the briefing session for candidates being only a few hours away.

“Ma’s disappearance reflects the fact that returning officers are under extreme political pressure from a particular side. The reasonable guess is Beijing and Hong Kong’s government have ordered them to disqualify me,” he said.

Laura Liang Aron
Laura Liang Aron. Photo: GovHK.

Since 2016, returning officers have often disqualified candidates on the grounds that they would not uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR.

Agnes Chow, also a member of Demosisto, was barred from running in the 2018 Legislative Council by-election over allegations she had unlawfully advocated self-determination. A high court overturned the decision to ban Chow last month, citing a lack of fairness.

Wong, secretary-general of the advocacy group Demosisto, has been running in a personal capacity as a member of the “pro-democratic camp” for the South Horizons West constituency in the election on November 24. Wong has said Demosisto was no longer a political party.

“I have a right to run – the Chinese Communist Party has no right to vet candidates,” Wong said.

Wong previously said that he had given a list of returning officers to a United States congressional commission in response to a request to identify individuals who should be subject to potential sanctions under the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, if passed.

2019 district council election

Wong told reporters on Thursday that it was unusual to replace Ma with Aron, a district officer in Kowloon. He said that typically a district officer or assistant district officer from Hong Kong Island would take up the role left vacant by Ma.

“I don’t know if Ma is sick or forced to be sick,” Wong said. “I don’t know if Aron will report sick in the future as well.”

Wong added that Aron used to work in the Hong Kong government’s office in Beijing.

Judy Chan of the pro-Beijing New People’s Party and pro-democracy financier Kelvin Lam are also running in South Horizons West.

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Kris Cheng

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.