Three candidates have been asked by election officials to clarify their stance on Hong Kong independence ahead of November’s district council elections.
Joshua Wong, a pro-democracy activist who plans to run for election to in the Southern District, posted on Facebook last night that an elections official, known as a returning officer, asked him if he represented the localist party Demosisto and whether he agreed that the goal of “self-determination” for Hongkongers included the option of independence. Wong is a co-founder of Demosisto, but has not clarified whether he is officially running as a party member.
Billy Chan, a Sha Tin district councillor, also posted on Facebook last night that he received a similar letter from an election official asking him what he meant by the slogan “Liberate Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” — the rallying cry of the city’s pro-democracy protesters. Included in the letter was a screengrab of a Facebook post from earlier this month that included the slogan. The election official noted in the letter that Chan’s explanation would determine whether or not his nomination for re-election would be validated
In the last hour, Tommy Cheung — one of the “Umbrella Nine” sentenced for their role in the 2014 pro-democracy movement — posted on Facebook that an election official had also asked him what he meant by using the same slogan in a Facebook post also from this month.
Finally, Democratic Party candidate Liu Qing has also reportedly received a similar query after apparently sharing an image created by someone else that also included the slogan.
The slogan — and the variation “Reclaim Hong Kong, the revolution of our times” — was coined by pro-independence activist Edward Leung when he was running in a 2016 Legislative Council by-election. Although he didn’t win that election, losing to the Civic Party’s Alvin Yeung, the slogan has since taken on a life of its own.
Leung is currently serving a six-year jail term for his role in the 2016 Mong Kok riots, and is currently appealing his sentence, but not his conviction. At his appeal hearing on Friday, hundreds gathered outside the High Court chanting his slogan, HKFP reports.
The official inquiries seeking candidates’ stance on independence are reminiscent of the case of former Demosisto candidate Agnes Chow, who was summarily barred from a LegCo by-election last year — without even being given the chance to clarify her stance — due to a returning officer’s assumption that her belief in “self-determination” was inherently incompatible with the Basic Law.
Earlier this month, the High Court overturned the decision to disqualify her, saying that at the very least, she should have been given the opportunity to defend her stance. The erring elections official had suggested that advocating self-determination was effectively the same as advocating independence, something Chow herself denied.
The court decision effectively nullified the result of the by-election, which was won by fellow pro-democrat Au Nok-hin.
The recent queries regarding the stance of current candidates would appear to be an indication that election officials are taking pains not to make the same mistake twice. However, last month’s court ruling still left in place officials’ broad powers to determine which candidates are eligible to run, even if candidates are now being given the opportunity to clarify their views on independence.
The issue of independence has long been a red line for Beijing — all the more so amid the city’s ongoing and distinctly anti-Beijing protests — and the Basic Law holds that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China.