Hong Kong’s national security vetting committee has approved all but one of the 154 Legislative Council election candidates, including accepting one who used a now-banned protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, revolution of our times.”

john lee nov 19 2021 vetting committee decisions
Photo: Selina Cheng./HKFP.

The seven-member Candidate Eligibility Review Committee headed by Chief Secretary John Lee is tasked with assessing whether candidates are compliant on matters of national security, as well as whether they support the Basic Law and show allegiance to the Hong Kong government.

Banned slogans

All 11 candidates who describe themselves as not part of the establishment bloc will be able to move ahead in the race, Lee said on Friday morning when announcing the committee’s decision. Among them is District Councillor Mandy Tam, running in the Kowloon Central district.

Tam used the “Liberate Hong Kong” and the “Five demands, not one less” slogans in Facebook posts and in a media interview during the protests in 2019 and 2020. She also urged Chief Executive Carrie Lam to step down and called for universal suffrage in Hong Kong.

The disqualified candidate, Lau Tsz-chun, was running in the medical and health services functional constituency. His candidacy was ruled invalid as he works for the government part- time, which is against election rules, Lee said.

‘Wide presentation’

The approved candidates come from across the political spectrum and show “wide representation,” Lee said. “This proves that the improved election system is not monochrome. The applicants were vetted according to the same standards and are considered equally in a fair and just process, regardless of their background.”

“The criticisms against the election system improvements and these fallacious arguments are self-defeating,” he added.

An election overhaul imposed by Beijing in May sharply reduces the percentage of directly elected seats in the Legislative Council, from 50 percent previously to 22 per cent in the December 19 poll. Major pro-democracy groupings did not announce any election candidates.

Lee did not respond directly to questions of a possible double standard over Tam’s nomination, as other district councillors were previously disqualified for using the same slogans.

The Candidate Eligibility Review Committee includes the Chairman of the Committee, the Chief Secretary for Administration, John Lee (centre), with the Committee members, namely the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, Erick Tsang Kwok-wai (third left); the Secretary for Home Affairs, Caspar Tsui (second left); the Secretary for Security, Tang Ping-keung (first left); Elsie Leung (third right); Rita Fan (second right); and Lawrence Lau (first right), at the meeting. Photo: HK gov.

After taking their oaths declaring allegiance to the government in September, former district councillors Derek Chu, Tiffany Yuen and Suzanne Wu were questioned by oaths administrator and Home Affairs Secretary Caspar Tsui about why they had used or posted these slogans. They were subsequently unseated after their oaths were ruled invalid. Tsui is also a member of the vetting committee.

“We, the vetting committee, when considering the cases of bad candidates, would issue letters requesting more information or explanation from them,” Lee said, “The committee will consider their case comprehensively… our considerations include the context and the time of when something happened, what the laws were at the time and whether these can be retrospectively applied.”

“The principle is clear: first we consider each candidate’s eligibility based on their support [of the Basic Law] and their allegiance [to the government],” he said.

Also running in the Kowloon Central district are Starry Lee and Yang Wing-kit, both pro-establishment candidates.

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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.