Dozens of pro-democracy district councillors stepped down on Thursday amid media reports that those councillors deemed to have committed “unpatriotic” acts would be disqualified from office – even if they take a new oath of loyalty.

The dramatic uptick in resignations came as new mandatory oaths of allegiances to the government for all district councillors are set to be introduced later this month.

The councils are the last stronghold for the democratic camp after democrats quit the higher-level Legislative Council in protest at the disqualification of four of their colleagues. A political overhaul ordered by Beijing will further erode the democrats’ influence, critics say.

Sham Shui Po’s Joshua Li closing his office. Photo: Facebook.

Reports suggest that disqualified district councillors may be forced to repay their salaries and allowances to the government.

Grounds for disqualification will reportedly include having taken part in an unofficial primary election for the democratic camp last July, having signed an online petition last year calling for Hong Kong to lose its special trade status, and displaying the protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, Revolution of our Times” in offices.

Councillors stepping down posted heartfelt farewell messages to their constituents on social media.

Owan Li of the Tai Kok Tsui district announced his resignation on his Facebook page. “I want to be the kind of person who, through hard work, makes the world a better place ,” he wrote. He said he would hand out face masks and hand sanitiser on Friday evening to say goodbye to his constituents.

Owan Li. Phrase reads: “If one day I can no longer be your district councillor, promise me you’ll take good care of yourself.” Photo: Facebook.

“Ten thousand apologies – I cannot finish my entire term, sorry I cannot serve you all as a district councillor. Under this collapsed system, I have never hoped that I can bring about change,” Tin Shui Wai’s Lam Chun wrote on Facebook.

He also quoted from the movie Spiderman: “If you’re nothing without the suit, then you shouldn’t have it.”

The councillor previously told HKFP he intended to swear the required oath of allegiance.

The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, whose members had also intended to swear the oath, announced its 19 district councillors would now not be taking the oaths, citing “drastic changes” in the political climate.

Yau Tsim Mong District Council. Photo: Owan Li via Facebook.

Shum Shui Po’s Kalvin Ho, who was granted bail but faces national security law charges along with 46 other democrats, also tendered his resignation on Thursday, his assistant told HKFP.

The Home Affairs Department declined to confirm the number of resignations it had received in the past 24 hours, saying it would announce district councillor vacancies in the official gazette within 21 days.

‘Keep the faith’

Many resigning councillors thanked their constituents and voters. “Even though the path upfront is extremely rough, I know all real Hongkongers still can keep the faith!” Happy Valley’s Clara Cheung wrote to her constituents.

Northern District’s Chan Wai-tat on his last day in office. Photo: Facebook.

Other councillors who announced their resignations on Thursday include Sha Tin’s Tsang So-lai, Sham Shui Po’s Joshua Li, Wan Chai’s Gary Li, Tai Po’s Kwan Wing-yip and Yam Kai-bong, Northern District’s Chan Wai-tat and Tuen Mun’s Edward Ho.

At least 30 had stepped down as of Thursday evening in the latest round of resignations.

Tuen Mun’s Edward Ho and Tai Po’s Yam Kai Bong. Photo: Facebook.

Scores of pro-democracy councillors had previously resigned following the imposition of the national security law a year ago and the announcement of the new oath-taking requirement.

Officials have said the oaths legislation will not be retroactive, but authorities will consider the past conduct of district councillors when reviewing whether their pledge of allegiance is sincere.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.