Hong Kong’s chief executive has denied the Legislative Council (LegCo) will become a mere rubber-stamp if all the democrats resign in protest over the disqualification of four elected lawmakers.

Following the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC) resolution on lawmakers’ eligibility criteria on Wednesday morning, the government ousted four pro-democracy lawmakers.

carrie lam
Carrie Lam. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam told reporters following the decision that the National People’s Congress is the highest organ of state power and has the authority to interpret the Basic Law, to monitor its implementation and to handle constitutional matters in relation to its implementation.

The four incumbent lawmakers — Alvin Yeung, Kenneth Leung, Kwok Ka-ki and Dennis Kwok — were barred from the now-postponed legislative elections. Lam said it was natural that lawmakers not fulfilling criteria to run were not eligible to remain in LegCo.

Lam confirmed that she sought the guidance of the National People’s Congress over the new eligibility criteria as the matter involved constitutional matters and therefore could not be decided under the discretion of the SAR government. She added that the circumstances were exceptional but the decision was legal, constitutional and reasonable.

Kenneth Leung Kwok Ka-ki, Alvin Yeung, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok
Kwok Ka-ki, Alvin Yeung, Kenneth Leung and Dennis Kwok. Photo: inmediahk.net via CC 2.0.

“The NPCSC’s earlier decision involved only the interim legislature, but not a tenure extension of all incumbent lawmakers,” she told reporters.

In anticipation of democrats’ mass resignation following the ousting of the four lawmakers, Lam said they should ask themselves if they are willing to give up their role as gatekeeper, adding that she respects diverse opinions.

She rejected the possibility of a by-election during the remainder of the interim LegCo.

Asked if the government would seize the opportunity in the absence of opposition to line up more controversial bills such as the Lantau Tomorrow Vision reclamation project and allowing Hongkongers living in Greater Bay Area to vote, Lam said pro-government lawmakers may not all support every government bill.

“I wouldn’t say that for members remaining in the Legislative Council we will have a rubber-stamp Legislative Council,” she added. “Each member of the Legislative Council has to account for actions to the constituencies [and] their voters. And there are many occasions even among the so-called pro-establishment members that our proposals did not get through.”

LegCo head ‘respects’ ruling

Speaking to reporters on Wednesday, LegCo president Andrew Leung said he “understood and respected” Beijing’s ruling. The seats held by the four disqualified democrats would be considered vacant since July 30, 2020 he said.

When asked about other pan-democrats who vowed to resign en masse, Leung said he “had no choice” but to respect their decisions. He also rebuffed criticism that the LegCo would become a “rubber-stamp” legislature if other opposition lawmakers chose to bow out.

“Do you think the pro-government camp is one party? They have a lot more different voices… without the pan-democrats, we might have more opposition from the pro-government camp,” Leung said.

He added the votes cast by the unseated LegCo members in meetings from July 30 onwards would remain valid, while the Legislative Council Commission would look into whether wages and subsidies have to be recovered.

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NPCSC chair Li Zhanshu said the decision would “perfect” the One Country Two Systems framework and committee members all agreed the resolution was necessary, appropriate and met the fundamental interests of all Chinese people.

He added that LegCo members were important components of the Special Administrative Region’s public servants who should uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the Hong Kong government.

Additional reporting: Kelly Ho.

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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.