Hong Kong Election Hopefuls Told to Sign Anti-Separatist Pledge

china-demos-july182016.jpg Demosisto Party democracy campaigners urge greater freedom for Hong Kong, July 14, 2016.

A new requirement that would-be lawmakers in Hong Kong renounce separatism before they can run in September's elections has sparked huge controversy in the former British colony, where many fear the city's traditional freedoms and promised autonomy are now a thing of the past.

Candidates for Sept. 4 elections to the city's Legislative Council (LegCo) are being asked for the first time to sign a form declaring that they accept Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China.

Candidates are also required to declare their support for the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, and their allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region, the city's Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) announced last week.

Pan-democratic candidates and lawyers have hit out at the move as yet another sign that Beijing is seeking to curb free speech in the once-freewheeling city.

Beijing officials say the city's government is obliged to "safeguard national sovereignty."

Pro-Beijing lawmaker Tam Yiu-chung said the form is meant to force potential candidates to reflect on their own loyalty before signing up to fight the election.

"I have absolutely no problem signing it, because I think it's so natural and obvious," Tam said. "How could legislators take part in any action that would split the country, or fight for separatism or independence for Hong Kong?"

"All of that would be totally in breach of the Basic Law, and it's not the sort of thing that we, as Chinese, should be doing."

Moves against Leung

But new political party Demosisto, which is campaigning on a platform of "self-determination" for Hong Kong, says its chairman Nathan Law has entered himself as a candidate to contest a directly elected seat on Hong Kong Island.

Led by former student leaders of the 2014 pro-democracy movement, the group has refused to rule out discussion of independence for Hong Kong, if that is where its citizens want to go.

Law said the top priority of pan-democratic politicians should be to topple the city's deeply unpopular leader Leung Chun-ying.

"The progress of democracy in Hong Kong cannot be allowed to be halted by an insistence on following the [ruling] Chinese Communist Party's official line," Law said in a statement on the group's Facebook page.

"Instead, it should hold to its aim of dislodging the chief executive," he said.

He said he has confidence that even conservative voters among the 3.8 million eligible to cast a ballot will be worried about where Hong Kong is headed under Chinese rule.

"I think a continuing democracy movement, going forward, will have the support of large numbers of voters," he said.

Just the beginning

Former Occupy Central leader Joshua Wong said Law's candidacy is "only a beginning" for self-determination.

"LegCo shouldn't be a club for the elite few," Wong said. "Nor should it serve the interests of a few ageing politicians."

"It should be an agent of hope, and the democratic movement should deliver change," he said.

Several pan-democratic lawmakers have already refused to sign the new form. It is unclear whether potential candidates will be prevented from running if they don't sign it.

The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) has said it is "open-minded" on the issue, while top barristers claim that there is no legal basis for the new requirement.

Of 70 seats in LegCo, 35 will be returned through direct ballot in five geographical constituencies, while the remainder are chosen by members of trades, professions, and industry groupings.

Beijing rules, it says

A June 10, 2014 white paper by China on Hong Kong issued a strong reminder that Beijing rules the city, sparking renewed calls for fully democratic elections in 2017 and a 79-day civil disobedience campaign.

The city was promised a "high degree of autonomy" under the terms of its 1997 return to Chinese rule within the "one country, two systems" framework agreed between British and Chinese officials and enshrined in its mini-constitution, the Basic Law.

However, China's cabinet, the State Council, has said such autonomy is still subject to the will of Beijing.

The row over the elections comes as some 42 percent of Hong Kong residents are thinking of leaving, citing concerns over housing, the quality of government, and education, a recent survey indicated.

The number of Hong Kong people emigrating to Canada almost doubled in the first quarter of this year compared with the same period last year, and the number moving permanently to Taiwan rose 36 percent over a similar time frame, Reuters reported.

The cross-border detentions of five Hong Kong booksellers accused of selling "banned books" to customers across the internal border in mainland China have eroded confidence that Beijing will respect the city's separate identity.

Reported by Lau Siu-fung for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Chen Pan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.


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