Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has said the proper functioning of the city’s 18 district councils will not be a consideration in the government’s rolling out of new oath-taking requirements later this month.

The chief executive’s comments on Tuesday follow the resignation of almost 200 district councillors within a week amid reports of impending mass disqualifications, leaving local communities without their elected political representatives.

Carrie Lam
Chief Executive Carrie Lam. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Lam said the resignations will not affect the execution of new legislation requiring district councillors to swear an oath of allegiance to the government.

“This piece of legislation should not exist in name only, so we will proceed in the work of oath-taking for district councillors,” she said.

“There are people who say, if you continue with this exercise, there will be a loss of a large number of district councillors, which will in turn affect the operation of the district councils,” she continued. “That factor is not to be considered by us because we have to implement the law.”

Oath-taking by permanent secretaries, heads of government department and senior directorate civil servants on December 18,2020. File photo: GovHK.

She said the Home Affairs Department were “ironing out the details,” saying authorities had taken two months to formulate the “legal consequences” of the oaths.

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.

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.

‘Out of our control’

More than half of the city’s 479 district council seats have been vacated as of Tuesday, after media reports suggested disqualified councillors will be required to repay their salaries and benefits since taking office. The government has been accused of engaging in a “scare game.”

Commenting on the number of resignations, Lam said: “They decided to resign. This is out of our control.”

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

She added that all district councillors will need to reflect on their past behaviour when taking the oath: “They would think whether they had crossed a line, and whether they are suitable to continue to be a district councillor.”

The district councils had been “seriously affected” and were “no longer the district body that would respond to district residents’ aspirations as we know it,” the chief executive continued.

The exodus has slashed the already diminished pro-democracy representation in Hong Kong, as critics accuse the government of quelling all dissent under the national security law.

The councils were the last stronghold of the democratic camp after democrats quit the higher-level Legislative Council in protest at the disqualification of four of their colleagues. Pro-democracy councillors controlled all but one of the district councils after a landslide victory in November 2019, during months of pro-democracy protests and unrest.

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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.