Two pro-democracy Hong Kong politicians are set to quit their district council seats because they refuse to swear allegiance to the government under a new oath-taking law which is currently before the city’s legislature.
District councillors Jacky Lai and To Ka-lun say they could not take an oath to pledge loyalty to the HKSAR and vow to uphold the Basic Law. Their decision comes after the government tabled a bill at the Legislative Council (LegCo) last month which seeks to extend the current allegiance oath for government officials, lawmakers and judges to members of the 18 district councils.
In a Facebook post on Thursday, Sai Kung District Councillor Lai said he will step down at the end of April and apologised to residents in the area he represents. He criticised the move to require district councillors to swear allegiance as “flagrantly stealing” the results of the 2019 District Council election, when pro-democracy candidates won a majority in 17 of the 18 councils against those from the pro-establishment camp.
“It is called oath-taking, but it is in fact putting a knife to the neck of each democratically-elected councillor,” Lai wrote. “The whole farce only shows – repeatedly – how the red line comes out of nothing.”
Lai, who is affiliated with Neo Democrats, added he will also withdraw from the political group.
Meanwhile, Yuen Long District Councillor To, announced on Wednesday that he had submitted his resignation letter which will take effect by the end of April. He said it was a “tough decision” to quit his role, as it might disappoint his constituents. But he said he may have to “live in fear every day” if he chooses to declare loyalty.
“Hong Kong’s rule of law is dead, justice has left. Amid this stormy time, councils at the two levels can hardly make a difference,” added To, an independent who supports the pro-democracy camp. He also described the provisions of the oath-taking bill as “harsh and ambiguous.”
Draft amendments to the bill currently before the legislature state that those who commit acts endangering national security will be deemed as having contravened the loyalty pledge. Fears over breaching the Beijing-imposed security legislation have deepened after 47 pro-democracy figures were detained and charged with “conspiracy to commit subversion” in February, for organising and taking part in an unofficial legislative primary election last July.
The oath-taking requirement for district councillors was first unveiled in February, a day after Chinese official Xia Baolong said the Hong Kong government should ensure only “patriots” hold power in the city.
Beijing has further stamped out the influence of the district councils by steering an electoral overhaul that will expel district councillors from an election committee for selecting the chief executive. Under the proposed amendments, the committee will gain sweeping powers to nominate legislative election hopefuls and elect 40 of them into to a revamped 90-member LegCo.
Incumbent district councillors are often seen as the last opposition force left in the government after pan-democratic legislators quit en-masse in protest over the ousting of four of their colleagues.
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang completed the first and second reading of the bill related to the new oath-taking requirement for public officers. The proposed amendments are currently scrutinised by a Bills Committee in the LegCo.