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Hong Kong demands that candidates take pro-China pledge in order to run

A pro-Hong Kong independence activist carries a placard during Hong Kong's annual July 1 rally which attracts a wide array of political, social and economic concern groups and community organizations.
(Alex Hofford / European Pressphoto Agency)

In an unprecedented move, Hong Kong electoral officials are asking all candidates running for the legislature in September to pledge under oath that the territory is an inalienable part of China.

The measure, announced Thursday, two days before the period to nominate candidates opened, is believed to be aimed at appeasing Beijing by blocking any candidate who advocates independence from China. Both the long-established pan-Democratic camp of politicians and new political parties founded by young pro-democracy activists have roundly condemned the new requirement.

“The government is doing to this to lay the groundwork for possible prosecution,” said Audrey Eu, chairwoman of the Civic Party. “Why should any candidate be [criminally] liable for discussions of a topic, however controversial it may be?”

Anyone who makes a false declaration can be punished by two years in prison.

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A former British colony turned semiautonomous Chinese territory of 7.3 million, Hong Kong has its own legislature and is governed until 2047 under a separate mini-constitution called the Basic Law, which enshrines basic freedoms that go well beyond those enjoyed in mainland China.

Pro-democracy politician Albert Ho, center, and other members hold a news conference in the world's first museum dedicated to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, on its closing day in Hong Kong on July 11, 2016.
Pro-democracy politician Albert Ho, center, and other members hold a news conference in the world’s first museum dedicated to the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown, on its closing day in Hong Kong on July 11, 2016.
(Anthony Wallace / AFP/Getty Images )

Before, potential candidates only needed to sign a declaration to uphold the constitution and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong. Although Article One of the Basic Law states that Hong Kong is an inalienable part of China, “there’s no legal basis for the new requirement,” said Albert Ho, a legislator from the Democratic Party who plans to run for reelection.

Ho’s party will meet with the head of electoral affairs commission to question the requirement.

To justify its move, the commission said in a press release that “there has been public opinion concerning whether the candidates do fully understand the Basic Law, and in particular Article One.”

Edward Leung, a popular pro-independence candidate, filed Saturday to run for legislature in the Sept. 4 elections and refused to sign the new pledge. Leung said he was told the justice department will have the final say on his candidacy.

“I’m going to see on what grounds the government can bar me from running,” Leung said in a campaign video posted on his Facebook page. “I call on everybody to join me in bringing pressure to bear.”

Demosisto, the new political party by young activist Joshua Wong and others in the wake of the failed pro-democracy Umbrella Movement, may mount a legal challenge to the pledge. But another bureaucratic roadblock seemed to have dampened its electoral ambitions.

On Thursday, the party announced it hasn’t raised enough money to field candidates to run in two of the territory’s five districts. It said it will pour resources into only one. Since its founding in April, the party has yet to receive government registration it needs to open a bank account and receive donations.

Independence so far has made little headway among Hong Kong’s electorate. In an election in February, Leung received only 15% of the vote in losing to a candidate from the pan-Democratic camp who did not advocate independence.

“Even so, the government was sufficiently unnerved to come up with a pre-emptive strike,” said Johnny Lau, a long-time reporter and observer on China’s politics based in Hong Kong. “Make a mountain out of a molehill – that’s classic Chinese political culture.”

Law is a special correspondent

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UPDATES:

July 16, 2:25 p.m.: This article was updated to report that Edward Leung, a pro-independence candidate, filed to run for the Hong Kong legislature.

This article was originally published at 6:45 p.m. July 15.


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