Hong Kong democrats barred from standing in September’s Legislative Council election have urged citizens to fight on, as they vowed to resist “blatant, relentless political oppression.”
On Thursday, the returning officers informed the 12 election hopefuls that their nominations had been ruled invalid. The officers told the candidates their “intention” to uphold the Basic Law and swear allegiance to the HKSAR was not deemed “genuine and truthful.”
Many democratic candidates received letters from electoral officers over the weekend, demanding answers within 24 hours to questions about their politics and positions on issues such as the Beijing-enforced national security law and US sanctions on city officials.
At a press conference on Thursday, the Civic Party criticised electoral authorities for ousting its leader Alvin Yeung, lawmakers Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and candidate Tat Cheng. Party Chairman Alan Leong slammed the reasons provided by the returning officers as excuses to eliminate candidates whom Beijing did not favour.
“After this very naked attempt to rip out any dissenting voice from the Legislative Council, we have no illusion that the Central People’s Government and the HKSAR government would honour their promises under the Sino-British Joint Declaration,” Leong said.
The Civic Party’s barred candidates said the disqualification showed that authorities were “worried and scared” about witnessing another landslide defeat of the pro-establishment camp.
They referenced the pro-democracy camp’s overwhelming victory at last November’s District Council elections; democrats won close to 400 out of 452 seats across 18 districts.
Incumbent lawmaker Dennis Kwok, who came under fire in April during a row over the election of the House Committee chair, described the disqualifications as “relentless oppression.” He told reporters the electoral officers’ questions were a form of “political screening.”
“[T]hey also tried to drive fear and oppression into our hearts. This, we must not let them succeed. This is the message of the Civic Party to the Hong Kong people – do not give up,” Kwok said.
Current legislator, Kwok Ka-ki, thanked everyone who voted in the democratic primaries earlier this month. He said the upcoming race could not be fair without candidates who were “authorised” by voters. He added the removal of democrats from the election would only unite Hongkongers, and make them treasure democracy and freedom.
“Today is not the end of the world. Today is the day for Hong Kong to rethink and move forward,” Kwok said.
Civic Party’s Jeremy Tam and Gordon Lam have yet to have their nominations confirmed. The party said the pair would likely to be barred as well. It did not reveal whether there would be replacement candidates.
The nomination period of the Legislative Council election opened on July 18 and will close on Friday.
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong described the mass disqualifications as Beijing’s largest-ever crackdown on an election, and “trampling upon the city’s last pillar of vanishing autonomy.”
He urged citizens not to give up: “[I]n order to safeguard the city’s future, Hongkongers will not surrender. Our resistance will continue and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle.”
Another ousted candidate, Ventus Lau, described his disqualification as “a joke,” while meeting with reporters on Thursday evening alongside his “plan B” candidate, Raymond Li.
Lau, who is also the spokesman of the Civil Assembly Team, asked on what ground could the New Territories East returning office Amy Yeung deem he had the power to “tolerate” US interference in Hong Kong. He criticised her as failing to properly consider his reply to her questions before arriving at her conclusion.
“The government has smashed Hongkongers’ fantasy about the election with their own hands,” Lau said. He added “the writing was on the wall” for citizens who had lost their freedom and rights.
Lau’s backup, Li, said he and seven Sha Tin district councillors had already applied to run in the election, but they had not received their confirmations from the returning officer.
Former reporter Gwyneth Ho, who was running in the New Territories East constituency, said she was not surprised at her disqualification. She appealed to Hongkongers to “play the long game” and continue to push the pro-democracy movement forward.
“Hong Kong’s destiny relies on the willpower of Hongkongers during this time, we must not shirk the responsibility to the next generation. As long as we know some Hongkongers have not given up, we must walk side by side together,” she wrote.
Other disqualified candidates included district councillors Tiffany Yuen, Lester Shum and Fergus Leung, Civic Passion’s Alvin Cheng and current lawmaker Kenneth Leung.
Correction 18.9.20: a previous version of this article incorrectly stated officers at the Electoral Affairs Commission had informed democrats that their nominations had been ruled invalid. It was the returning officers who had done so.