Hong Kong’s opposition Democratic Party might be in breach of the national security law if it forces members not to run in upcoming elections, according to a pro-Beijing figure.

The city’s largest opposition party will decide later this month whether to contest elections after a political overhaul ordered by Beijing sharply reduced the number of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council as well as the influence of pan-democrats.

count district council election box november 11 (16)
Photo: May James/HKFP.

But authorities are believed eager for some democrats to take part in order to lend credence to the December 19 LegCo election.

Lo Man-tuen, vice-chair of the All-China Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese, said that “mild and practical” Democratic Party members who focus on district affairs “not only have the room and opportunity to run under the new election mechanism, they also have the wish and motivation to take part.”

Lo wrote in a Ming Pao op-ed that Democratic Party members who want to run in the election should “set up their own shop” if the party insists in “embracing the route of radical resistance.”

“What must be pointed out is that there is already public opinion in society reminding the Democratic Party that if they forcefully stop members from running in elections, it’s equivalent to challenging and destroying the new election system, and will possibly violate the Hong Kong national security law.”

‘No room’ for radicals

The pro-Beijing figure said that the candidacy of Tik Chi-yuen, a self-proclaimed centrist and former vice chairperson of the Democratic Party, in the election for the Election Committee showed that some in the Democratic Party have the opportunity to run and win in polls.

Lo also said that Tik should “right his name” and return to calling himself a democrat now that “society has returned to normal and there is no room for radical routes.”

Tik, the founder and chairperson of centrist party Third Side, is a candidate in the Social Welfare functional constituency in the Election Committee election next week.

Lo Man-tuen
Lo Man-tuen. Photo: Chinese General Chamber of Commerce.

The former vice chairperson told HKFP that the Democratic Party should figure out its future pathway and political position before deciding whether to contest elections.

“The Democratic Party still has a big role in society, given the amount of supporters they have,” said Tik. “…if they can decide on their position before settling on whether to run, it will be more convincing for members and supporters.”

In a previous article, Lo said the Democratic Party would hit a “dead end” if its members did not run in the next election. Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor last month questioned the point of a political party’s existence if it did not fully engage in the electoral process,

In March 2021, Beijing passed legislation to ensure only “patriots” govern Hong Kong. The move reduced the number of directly elected seats from 35 to 20 in a legislature enlarged from 70 to 90 seats, tightened control of elections and introduced a pro-Beijing vetting panel to select candidates.

The Hong Kong government said the overhaul would ensure the city’s stability and prosperity. But the changes also prompted international condemnation, as it makes it much more difficult for pro-democracy candidates to stand.

Democratic party chairperson Lo Kin-hei said in August that members would decide at a general meeting on September 26 whether to run in upcoming elections.

Lo Kin-hei
Chairperson of the Democratic Party Lo Kin-hei commenting on the bill overhauling Hong Kong’s election systems outside the Legislative Council on May 27, 2021. Photo: Candice Chau/HKFP,

The chairperson told HKFP that he would look into Lo Man-tuen’s claim as it “was very different from the usual understanding of how Hong Kong elections are run.”

Lo Kin-hei also asked officials to clarify claims made in the op-ed about the relationship between election matters and the national security law.

Democratic Party infighting

The party has been embroiled in infighting among members over the departure of one of its vice chairpersons Lee Wing-tat from the city, as well as whether to participate in polls.

Following Lee’s unexpected departure to London in August, a fellow party member So Yat-hang, without naming Lee, wrote on Facebook: “Tell people to go forward, while escaping yourself.”

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Administrators of former lawmakers Andrew Wan and Lam Cheuk-ting’s social media pages then posted criticisms of “opportunists” in the party who advocate taking part in elections. Both Wan and Lam are currently in custody pending trial on national security law charges.

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Candice is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. She previously worked as a researcher at a local think tank. She has a BSocSc in Politics and International Relations from the University of Manchester and a MSc in International Political Economy from London School of Economics.