by Brian Hioe
Photo Credit: Tksteven/WikiCommons/CC
THE HONG KONG government continues with efforts to repress political freedoms in Hong Kong, with four pan-Democratic legislators among the latest to be disqualified from political office today.
The Hong Kong government previously announced that twelve pan-Democratic lawmakers would be disqualified from running in Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in July, before announcing that elections would be postponed for a year. The postponement occurred under the pretext of the COVID-19 pandemic, with much speculation ahead of time as to whether the Hong Kong government would actually go through with the election delay. But many question after the delay whether the Hong Kong government will simply find another pretext not to hold the election a year from now. Disqualifying the twelve legislators then canceling elections entirely would simply be the Hong Kong government hedging its bets.
This continues. The four lawmakers disqualified today are the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu, Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, and Kenneth Leung, who serves in the Accountancy functional constituency. The four were lawmakers that were previously disqualified for running for reelection in July, but who had decided to serve out their extended terms, given the election delay.
Clearly, Beijing is advancing its timeline for pushing pan-Democrats out of office, possibly aiming to speed up the removal of pan-Democratic lawmakers from office. There are a total of 22 pan-Democratic lawmakers in office, meaning that the disqualification of the four lawmakers would affect close to 20% of pan-Democratic politicians in LegCo.
One of the key justifications for the disqualification is continual filibusters launched by pan-Democrats, citing that this prevents the functioning of the legislature. Being able to launch such filibusters to paralyze LegCo is one reason why pan-Democrats strategically decided to remain in the legislature.
To this extent, the disqualifications took place through a resolution by China’s National People’s Congress empowering the Hong Kong government to bypass the normal court system to remove lawmakers from power. It is yet to be seen how frequent the Hong Kong government’s use of these new powers will be, as these new powers significantly increase the ability of the Hong Kong government to crack down on pro-democracy electoral organizing. Not only legislators, but also district councilors could be targeted.
But with pan-Democrats anticipating the disqualifications, the pan-Democratic camp suggested earlier this week that they may resign en masse as an act of protest. A mass resignation would be one way of forcing the issue of Beijing chipping away at pan-Democratic lawmakers’ presence in LegCo. Pan-Democratic lawmakers have further stated that they intend to construct a new platform for civic discussions, between citizens and politicians, and involving pan-Democratic politicians as legislators and district councilors, likely hoping to circumvent the control Beijing has over the electoral system.
That being said, pan-Democratic Executive Council member Ronny Tong has been among those to urge pan-Democratic lawmakers to not resign en masse, citing the irreversible consequences of a mass resignation.
Indeed, it is possible that the Chinese government would simply shrug off the mass resignations. Likewise, one expects that the Hong Kong government may not be content to simply disqualify pan-Democratic lawmakers, but may also seek to jail them on charges that they violated their oaths of office, or other trumped up charges. Resignations of pan-Democratic lawmakers might, in fact, simply hasten the process.
Hong Kong news outlets such as HK01 and the Sing Tao Daily have reported that China’s National People’s Congress was considering setting a “standard for patriots” that lawmakers must meet. If so, disqualifications are likely to expand to beyond just four legislators.
In the meantime, unaccountable actions by the Hong Kong police have continued, with outrage after Hong Kong police officers were filmed trampling flowers left for Alex Chow Tsz-Lok on the one-year anniversary of his death on November 9th last year, outside the car park where he fell to his death. Chow, a 22-year-old student, died under unclear circumstances from the fall, with it believed that Chow may have been fleeing from tear gas fired by police, and that Chow may have been involved in protesting against the Hong Kong police—for example, some believe that Chow may have been acting as a spotter keeping track of police movements.
Either way, as with other mysterious deaths that have taken place during protests to date in Hong Kong, members of the public have taken to leaving flowers at the site of Chow’s death and called for an investigation into the incident. But the Hong Kong police has forcibly dismantled such memorials, refusing to allow Hongkongers even the basic dignity of mourning the dead, apparently.
To this extent, it should also be clear that Hong Kong government officials have no intention of addressing the issues that have motivated Hongkongers to protest for well over a year now. During American presidential elections, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam urged the US to stop interfering in elections in Hong Kong, again continuing to pin the causes of the protests that have taken place in Hong Kong on shadowy, external forces rather than purely domestic concerns regarding the deterioration of political freedoms in Hong Kong. One expects Hong Kong government officials as Lam to continue to adhere to this stance. In the same timeframe, the American government has announced sanctions on four Hong Kong officials involved in repressive actions against protesters.
Further clashes are expected with the one-year anniversary of the siege of the City University of Hong Kong coming up. Anniversaries of protest events continue to prove ripe for conflict.