A court in Hong Kong on Thursday rejected a bid to unseat a seventh pan-democratic lawmaker in the city, saying that any alleged problems with his election victory should have been dealt with through other channels.
Hong Kong businessman Wong Tai-hoi applied for a judicial review in a bid to prevent newly elected lawmaker Au Nok-hin from taking up his seat in the city's Legislative Council following a by-election on Mar. 11, on the grounds that he had once burned a copy of the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law.
A high-profile intervention from China's parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), in a row over the use of oaths of allegiance to make political points, has led to the unseating of six pro-democracy members of Hong Kong's Legislative Council (LegCo) in recent years, leading the pan-democratic camp to lose a crucial power of veto in the chamber.
Many more pro-democracy candidates, including Agnes Chow, of Demosisto, have been disqualified from standing in elections by officials, on the basis that they don't support the Basic Law, or are pro-independence.
But High Court judge Anderson Chow threw out Wong's application on Thursday, saying it was "thoroughly ill-conceived."
Under Hong Kong election rules, challenges to election results must be filed by at least 10 people, or by a losing candidate in the same election, in the form of an election petition, Chow said.
However, the judge declined to comment on Au's suitability as a LegCo member, saying Wong's allegations were irrelevant to his decision.
Au welcomed the ruling, and reiterated that he will sincerely uphold the Basic Law, hitting out at the attempt to unseat him as a politically motivated act by political groups loyal to Beijing and the Hong Kong administration.
"I hereby call on the pro-establishment faction to stop using the judicial system for such trivial and unnecessary matters," Au told reporters after the ruling. "They should not abuse the judicial system to stop me from carrying out my duties."
He said he hadn't ruled out further challenges to his election victory via the election petitioning system, however.
"The pro-establishment faction could still use various methods to try to oust me as a LegCo member, but I don't think any of these practices are appropriate," Au said.
"After all, around 130,000 people on Hong Kong Island turned out to vote for me ... in the LegCo by-election of Mar. 11," he said. "Members of the different factions should respect the election result."
But pro-Beijing trade unionist Wong Kwok-hing, who helped with the application, said Au may still face another challenge to his LegCo seat, as the judge hadn't criticized the substance of the application, only the legal process.
"The judge made it very clear that only our legal process was inappropriate, and that other, more appropriate channels were available to us," Wong Kwok-hing said. "One more appropriate channel would be an election petition."
"I believe that all right-thinking citizens, including Wong Tai-hoi, will be taking further legal advice," he said. "We hope to get started as soon as possible."
Au burned a copy of the Basic Law during a rally organized by the Civil Human Rights Front on Nov. 2, 2016, according to Hong Kong's South China Morning Post newspaper.
Au was protesting against the NPC’s interpretation of the Basic Law, which led to the expulsion of six popularly elected pro-democracy LegCo members, starting with pro-independence lawmakers Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching.
The NPC standing committee's interpretation said that oaths must be taken with "solemnity and sincerity" to be valid, whereas the disqualified lawmakers had altered the wording and tone of theirs, or displayed banners and slogans while swearing in.
The pair, both members of the youth group Youngspiration, had vowed allegiance to the "Hong Kong Nation" and carried banners saying "Hong Kong is not China" during their swearing-in ceremonies, while Yau swore in her reference to China.
The Mar. 11 by-election replaced a further four pro-democracy lawmakers—Nathan Law, Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai, and Edward Yiu—who were ousted in July after a court ruling that voided their oaths of office for reasons including speaking too slowly, inserting extra words, and using a tone deemed disrespectful to China.
Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Feng for the Mandarin Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.