The number of pro-democracy district councillors who have announced they will quit over an ongoing oath-taking row has reached more than 130 following local media reports suggesting that they may be asked to repay all wages and subsidies if they are disqualified for breaching it.

district council election november 11 (10)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

Around 80 district councillors had resigned by the end of Thursday following the reports. The tally of resignations announced on social media platforms added up to 134 at the time of writing on Friday evening, Inmedia reported.

District councils’ official websites recorded a total of 71 confirmed resignations since Wednesday.

The dramatic uptick in resignations comes ahead of the introduction of  new mandatory oaths of allegiance to the government for all district councillors later this month.

Local media reports on Wednesday cited sources saying that about 250 district councillors are facing disqualification. They may be forced to repay salaries and allowances received from government since taking office in early 2020, which could add up to over a million dollars per person, leading to bankruptcy.

Among those who resigned are Kam Nai-wai from the Central and Western district, Kwong Po-yin of Kowloon City, Shum Shui Po district council chair Yeung Yuk and Yau Tsim Mong district council vice chair Andy Yu.

Yuen Long District Councillor Lam Chun, who is affiliated with the localist group Tin Shui Wai Connection, also announced his resignation although he previously said he would declare loyalty to the HKSAR and swear to uphold the Basic Law during an interview with HKFP in May.

Andy Yu
Andy Yu. File Photo: by CC 2.0.

Taking into account earlier resignations such as Ted Hui, who has left the city, and Louis Ho who resigned for health reasons, the Central and Western District Council website shows that only seven out of its 15 district councillors remain in office on Friday.

The councils are the last stronghold for the democratic camp after their political allies 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.

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.

District councillors who announced their resignations on social media posted farewell messages to their constituents.

“I don’t know where the path lies, but the battle tells me that there will be a path ahead as long as we keep walking. I thank all those who fought alongside me in the past 555 days,” said Sam Yip of the Shek Tong Tsui constituency on Facebook.

However, some councillors vowed to remain in office regardless of circumstances, including Pakkin Leung of Wan Chai district and Tommy Cheung of Yuen Long.

“As a directly elected district councillor elected by one-person-one-vote, I will continue to serve my residents. Whoever wants me to stop working have to ask permission from my constituents, unless you admit to be part of a tyranny,” Leung wrote on Facebook.

Democratic Party chief Lo Kin-hei said he wrote a letter to Chief Executive Carrie Lam seeking clarification on the possible impending mass disqualification, RTHK reported.

Chris Tang Yuen Long District Council
Police commissioner Chris Tang (second from left) at Yuen Long District Council on May 12. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The 2019 District Council elections which took place in the wake of the anti-China extradition bill protests saw a record turnout of 71.2 per cent, with more than 3 million people casting a ballot, Lo said. If the disqualification reports are true, it would be equivalent to overturning the election’s results and will severely hamper the confidence of Hong Kong people in the electoral system, he added.

Support for oath – survey

Meanwhile, the results of a Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute survey carried out between July 5 and July 8 released on Friday showed that 43 per cent of 6,930 respondents from across the political spectrum said they believe districts councillors should take an oath of allegiance and let the government decide whether it is valid or not.

Among 2,594 respondents who self-identified as pro-democracy camp supporters, 29 per cent said they believe the councillors should swear the oath, while 40 per cent said the they should resign.

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

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.