Demanding answers about their position on the national security law for Hong Kong from candidates, and reviewing their candidacy are not "political review," but the legitimate procedure under the guidelines on election-related activities, legal experts said. Speculation that a growing number of pan-democracy candidates would be disqualified in the 2020 Legislative Council (LegCo) is nothing but a "deliberate misinterpretation" of the law and groundless accusation of central and local governments' interference in the election, they added.
Flags of China and China's Hong Kong Special Administrative Region fly in front of the Legislative Council Complex in Hong Kong. (Photo: IC)
Some pro-independency camp candidates, including former secretary-general of the secessionist group Demosistō Joshua Wong Chi-fung, received letters from electoral officers demanding a response to critical questions such as whether they support "Hong Kong independence," media reported.
Other candidates, including Civic Party member Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu and Dennis Kwok Wing-hang, said they received letters from the officers seeking answers about their stance on the newly enacted national security law, which sparked concerns over mass disqualification, as opposition groups also criticized electoral authorities for seriously interfering in the election.
It also sparked a wider range of questions about whether Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) authorities, along with the central government, is using the national security law for Hong Kong to disqualify or undermine opposition candidates, as some Western media and anti-China observers speculated, raising concerns that the civil and political freedoms under the Basic Law would be eroded.
For instance, Gordon Chang, a notorious "China expert," tweeted on Tuesday that "Hong Kong may never have another election."
The enforcement of the national security law does not have a direct influence on the intensity of the review process for candidacy, Kennedy Wong Ying-ho, solicitor of the Supreme Court of Hong Kong, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"Candidacy review always exists, as civil servants must uphold national laws and the Basic Law, and there were no requirements added into the review process, as the national security law for Hong Kong has come into force," Wong said.
Candidates must uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR, according to the guidelines on the election-related activities with respect to the LegCo Election. As the national security law for Hong Kong has been included in the Annex III of the Basic Law, it's reasonable to ask whether they uphold the national security law as part of the Basic Law, Tian Feilong, a legal expert on Hong Kong affairs at Beihang University in Beijing, told the Global Times on Tuesday.
"This is a game of concepts. It's not called 'political review' but a review in accordance with the law," Tian said, noting that the ultimate goal of the election is to select qualified lawmakers to serve the HKSAR and safeguard the Basic Law.
"How would they take part in the election if they have completely opposite intentions?" Tian asked.
Meanwhile, the power of electoral officers to disqualify non-eligible candidates is also long-existing and lawful, legal experts said. "The national security law for Hong Kong adds no enforcement to it whatsoever," Wong said.
A number of factors will be considered by electoral officers to disqualify candidates, including their past words and deeds, while experts believe that there won't be mass disqualifications this year as the Basic Law ensures a democratic election procedure.
"Whether it's a false statement or hypocritical show of support to the HKSAR government or national security, the electoral officers would consider not only what candidates say but also what they do," Tian said.
Some believe that this year's candidacy review is stricter than it was in past years. "This is probably because of the changing situation. Candidates used to stoop to new lows in the past, which is not supposed to happen again this year," Wong said.