Most pro-democracy lawmakers have agreed to serve an extra year in Hong Kong’s existing legislature despite anger over the government’s decision to postpone elections to the chamber. Some activists, however, say they will boycott the body in protest at an “illegitimate” extension.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam on July 31 announced the postponement of the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections scheduled on September 6 for at least a year, citing the need to battle a surge in Covid-19 infections.
Her decision came a day after 12 pro-democracy figures – including four incumbent lawmakers – were barred from the race because electoral officers were not satisfied that they would uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong.
The Standing Committee of China’s legislature, the National People’s Congress, decided last week to allow the extension of all incumbent lawmakers’ terms in Legco for at least a year. The legislature’s normal term is four years.
Following a closed-door meeting, Tanya Chan – convenor of the pro-democracy camp – wrote in a statement on Monday that most members intend to stay on in LegCo.
But not everyone agrees. Incumbent lawmaker Ray Chan of People Power wrote on Facebook on Monday that he was not seeking to stay in the interim LegCo: “I don’t intend to remain. I support that all [democrats] should boycott and refuse to assume duty for another year.”
Another lawmaker Eddie Chu, who urged his colleagues to boycott the interim council, said there should be an opinion poll or referendum on whether democrats should stay on.
“Most citizens think that it should not be up to each party to decide whether lawmakers remain or leave. There should be a re-endorsement through referendum or credible opinion polls,” he wrote on Facebook on Sunday.
“The Chinese Communist Party has anticipated that all elected members will stay for another year. Only by collectively boycotting LegCo can we generate an outcome that is unfavourable and unpredictable to the Communist Party,” he wrote. “Time is running short. I urge democrats to act quickly and put our heads together for the cause.”
Activist Lester Shum, who has previously been barred from standing for LegCo, wrote on Facebook that staying in the council was equivalent to accepting its appointment by the National People’s Congress.
“The Chinese Communist Party denied and dismissed the endorsement we gained from the primaries, as well as cancelling the elections in September… LegCo of the upcoming one-year is an unconstitutional and illegitimate council supplanted by the National People’s Congress unilaterally.”
Shum and eight other candidates who were excluded from the elections stood in the legislative primaries held on July 11 and 12. The polls were organised by opposition parties and attracted a turnout of over 600,000 voters.
Those in favour of staying on say the legislature needs opposition voices to speak out against controversial government proposals.
Democratic Party chair Wu Chi-wai and leader of the Civic Party Alvin Yeung told Apple Daily newspaper that the two largest pro-democracy parties are inclined to remain.
Shiu Ka-chun, who represents the social welfare sector, also told Apple Daily he wants to use his status as a lawmaker to support jailed protesters.
The newspaper itself also carried a trenchant call to remain. “Remain firmly at LegCo. Resist evil laws and the political regime,” a full-page front cover advertisement proclaimed on Monday. It was signed by “a group of citizens.”