Hong Kong lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai has been unseated from the legislature with immediate effect, after a new vetting body established as part of a Beijing-ordered electoral overhaul ruled he was not patriotic enough for public office.

The decision leaves just one member of the Legislative Council (LegCo) who is not aligned with the pro-government camp.

Cheng Chung-tai. File photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

The disqualification of the Civic Passion politician was announced on Thursday by Chief Secretary John Lee, who chairs the new candidate eligibility review committee and hit out at what he called “liars” trying to whitewash their past.

Lee said Cheng’s registration to become an ex-officio member of the Election Committee was ruled invalid, after the separate Committee on National Security said he did not pass the test of pledging loyalty to the city and vowing to uphold the Basic Law.

In ousting Cheng, the city’s number two official said authorities had taken into consideration his previous public statements, books and articles and a “negative list” of conduct deemed to breach the allegiance pledge.

He said the move to strip Cheng of his seat was based on a decision by Beijing’s top legislative body last November which empowered local authorities to oust four pan-democratic lawmakers whom they deemed as “unpatriotic.” Virtually all the remaining pro-democracy legislators quit at that time in protest.

Cheng will be barred from running in the upcoming LegCo election in December.

John Lee meets the press on August 26, 2021. Photo: GovHK.

“People who pretend to uphold the Basic Law or pretend to pledge allegiance to the SAR… I would not let them whitewash themselves with flowery words, because liars are best at playing different roles,” Lee said.

The panel led by Lee is part of a multi-layer screening mechanism formed as part of a Beijing-decreed electoral overhaul, which aims to ensure only “patriots” hold power in the city. People wishing to vie for a seat on the Election Committee or the legislature will have to undergo two rounds of national security checks, before the vetting body gives the green light.

Speaking to the press in the legislature, Cheng confirmed he received a letter from the Electoral Affairs Commission about his disqualification at around 4 pm on Thursday. He said that during the vetting process, he faced questions about his constitutional duty as a legislator and whether he was “genuinely patriotic.”

Authorities also asked about the forums in which he had taken part and whether his past statements involved collusion with foreign powers.

The ousted lawmaker said he “respected” the vetting body’s decision, adding he believed there was no judicial procedure for him to challenge his disqualification.

Committee for Safeguarding National Security of Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

“Out of respect for the confidentiality agreement, I cannot say too much… but of course I think I fulfil the [patriotism] requirement,” he said.

Cheng was among 1,498 people scrutinised by the review committee and another unidentified individual also failed to pass the screening. According to the electoral office’s website, Calvin Choi from the insurance sector was listed as having an invalid nomination, as he was not a registered district voter.

Among the group whose nominations or registrations were approved, 1,015 people will take part in a poll next month to secure a seat on the powerful Election Committee.

Under the political overhaul, which will greatly reduce the representation of pro-democracy politicians, the committee will be responsible not only for electing the city’s leader, but also for nominating candidates for LegCo and for directly selecting 40 of them.

Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.