Hong Kong Government Seeks to Block Pro-Democrats from LegCo

Probe to question legitimacy of primary election

The Hong Kong government, backed by Beijing, is investigating the legitimacy of primary elections held over the weekend in an effort to prevent pro-democracy politicians from dominating Hong Kong’s Legislative Council.

The primary election was designed to winnow the numbers of pro-democracy candidates (also called the pan-democrats) for LegCo elections on September 6. The pro-Beijing camp chooses its candidates not through primary elections but with the guidance of the Chinese authorities.

The primary election improves the pan-democrats’ chances of winning more seats at the LegCo polls in September by picking the candidates who perform best in the primaries, thereby reducing their numbers and thus preventing dilution of the pro-democratic vote.

The Hong Kong government said on July 13 that it doesn’t recognize or approve of the primary elections, which is probably prudent after pro-Beijing forces were humiliated last November when pro-democracy candidates swept 385 local district council seats out of 452, or 85 percent of those up for grabs.

“If this so-called primary election’s purpose is to achieve the ultimate goal of… resisting every policy initiative of the Hong Kong government, then it may fall into the category of subverting the state, which is now one of the four offenses under the new national security law,” said Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor at a press conference on July 13.

The Chinese government bypassed LegCo to push through the national security law, which took effect in Hong Kong on June 30, criminalizing subversion, separatism, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

“Her contention that those who seek to win a majority in the LegCo and veto a government bill is somehow subverting state power is bizarre,” said David Webb, a Hong Kong corporate governance activist. “LegCo has a function to approve and reject bills. If the majority of LegCo members rejects a bill, that is not subversion of state power. It is its duty under the Basic Law.”

Webb cited Article 52 of the Basic Law, which stipulates that the chief executive must resign when, after LegCo is dissolved because it refuses to pass the budget or any other important bill, the new LegCo still refuses the pass the original bill.

“I don’t see how upholding the Basic Law can be subversion of the state,” Webb argued.

On July 13, a spokesman of the Liaison Office, which represents the Chinese government in Hong Kong, warned that in the wake of the promulgation of the national security law, some people aim to gain control of LegCo so as to block the passage of budgets, paralyze the Hong Kong government and subvert the national government, which already violates Article 22 of the national security law.

A Hong Kong government spokesperson it has received complaints from some residents that some candidates plan to gain seats in the LegCo at the September polls with a view to blocking government-backed legislation. The government argued that would violate Article 22 of the security law, which deems disrupting the Hong Kong government’s operations as subversion.

The Hong Kong government added it is investigating the primary elections in response to complaints from “not a few residents.” The city’s government stressed, “If anybody committed fraud or violated any law during the primary elections, the special administrative region’s government will definitely severely deal with that person unsparingly and investigate those who broke the law.”

The complaints included manipulating the elections, large crowds who violated social distancing measures to prevent Covid-19 and fears that personal information provided might not be protected in keeping with privacy laws.

More than 600,000 people, higher than expected, voted in the primary elections, suggesting many will vote for pro-democracy candidates in the LegCo elections in September. Pro-independence politicians like Joshua Wong Chi-fung did well in the primary elections at the expense of traditional opposition politicians. The 23-year old Wong won the most votes at 34 percent in his district of Kowloon East against two other candidates who gained 25 percent and 17 percent of the votes. Pro-independence politicians like Wong are vulnerable to being punished under the security law, which criminalizes separatism.

On July 12, Wong tweeted, “People often asked if I’m afraid of being arrested, kidnapped or attacked. As an electoral candidate and a Hong Konger born in this lovely city, I will fight until my last breath.”

On July 14, Wong tweeted that the primaries may be the last free election of Hong Kongers.

The Liaison Office spokesman strongly condemned the pro-democracy camp for organizing the primary election, which the spokesman described as illegal. The Liaison Office spokesman expressed “resolute support” for the Hong Kong government’s investigation of this election.

The spokesman alleged some opposition politicians received support from foreign forces to organize this primary election as “a serious provocation”, which “seriously damages the fairness” of the LegCo elections in September and hurts the interests of other candidates.

The Liaison Office spokesman singled out Benny Tai Yiu-ting for coordinating the primary election as a “typical lawbreaker.” The goal of Tai and some other opposition politicians is to seize the governing authority “in the vain hope” of creating a color revolution, the spokesman alleged.

Tai is an associate professor of law at Hong Kong University and a democracy activist who played a major role in the city’s Occupy Central protests in 2014.

“Benny Tai has previously been sentenced to 16 months in jail because of the illegal Occupy Central demonstrations, yet he organizes the election in such a public high-profile manner. Who is directing him? Who gives him such boldness?” said the spokesman.

“Any opportunist who represents foreign forces…will certainly have no escape,” the Liaison Office spokesman warned.

On July 14, the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, which promotes cooperation between mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau, also condemned the primary election and accused Tai of being a political representative of Taiwan and foreign parties.

Tai wrote on Facebook that “We have created a miracle (the primary election with a big turnout), but I fear the powers that be will furiously counterattack and settle scores, which will happen very soon. Everyone must carefully prepare.”

The Chinese government faces a lose-lose situation, said a risk consultant who declined to be named. Beijing loses if the pro-democrats gain a majority of LegCo, but also loses if it prevents this from happening, the risk consultant explained. If many pan-democratic candidates are disqualified from running for LegCo, the Chinese government risks accusations from the US and UK of interfering in Hong Kong’s democratic processes, which may justify the US and UK imposing sanctions against Chinese entities, he added.

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