Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister has warned the upcoming primary election for the pro-democracy camp may violate the new Beijing-imposed national security law.

In an interview published on Wednesday, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang told the Canadian edition of Sing Tao Daily that organisers of the primaries should tread carefully due to calls for elected lawmakers to veto the government’s annual budget.

Erick Tsang
Erick Tsang. Photo: inmediahk.net.

“Those who have organised, planned or participated in the primary election should be wary and avoid carelessly violating the law,” he said.

Tsang said one the objectives of the primaries was to win a majority of seats in the legislature and subsequently vote against the budget. He added this could contravene clauses in the new law prohibiting secession, subversion and collusion with foreign powers.

China’s rubber-stamp parliament approved the final draft of the national security legislation for Hong Kong on June 30. Offenders could face a maximum penalty of life imprisonment. The unprecedented decision was made after months of sometimes violent pro-democracy protests in the city.

“Of course, many factors determine whether an incident constitutes a crime, including evidence and the facts of the case,” Tsang added.

Co-founder of the 2014 Occupy protests and law professor Benny Tai refuted the claim in a Facebook post, saying such advocacy work was in accordance with the principles of the Basic Law.

Hong Kong China handover July 1, 2020
Photo: GovHK.

“If secretary Tsang has arbitrarily interpreted the clauses for political purposes, he could come to such absurd conclusions, that an election organised by members of the public could be seen as violating the national security law,” Tai wrote.

He added that vetoing the budget would not constitute “seriously interfering in, disrupting, or undermining the performance of duties and functions” of the government under Article 22 of the new law because the chief executive has the power to dismiss the legislature and call a by-election.

He told reporters on Monday that lawmakers enjoy the constitutional power to veto bills – including the budget – according to the Basic Law.

Tai said organisers had received enquiries about whether the primaries would go ahead on Saturday and Sunday following the enactment of the law. He admitted he was not optimistic about the turnout.

democrats pro democracy 35+ legco legislative council primary election 2020 september au nok hin andrew chiu benny tai
Benny Tai. Photo: Rachel Wong/HKFP.

“We hope members of the public will do what they think is right. Do not let fear drive you into inaction.”

The primaries to select pro-democracy candidates to run in September’s legislative election was organised Tai, ex-lawmaker Au Nok-hin, the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute and political group Power for Democracy.

Rachel Wong previously worked as a documentary producer and academic researcher. She has a BA in Comparative Literature and European Studies from the University of Hong Kong. She has contributed to A City Made by People and The Funambulist, and has an interest in cultural journalism and gender issues.