New ban raises old rule of law fears

Editorial | Mary Ma 16 Oct 2018

How can someone shed his or her pro-independence label in order to run for public office?

It's a legitimate question after so many young people, one by one, have seen their political rights taken away by returning officers. The Labor Party's Lau Siu-lai has become the latest to be barred from contesting an election due to her political past.

Until her recent arbitrary disqualification by returning officer Franco Kwok Wai-fan, Lau had been running ahead of pro-establishment opponent Rebecca Chan Hoi-yan in the West Kowloon byelection race.

The development is making it impossible to avoid the question any longer. Even though it's common for offenders to be stripped of their political rights in the mainland, the authorities would always spell out a time limit for those restrictions.

Alarmingly, that hasn't been the case here in Hong Kong, and that it's being allowed to repeat itself is indeed a cause for concern.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor offered little to ease the fears when she told a TV interviewer that young people may prove their innocence by joining the civil service, and then the evidence would become clear after some time.

It's an extraordinary argument. Was Lam serious or was she joking to deflect a question that caught her off-guard?

Not only has her tip failed to assure a public increasingly concerned about what's been happening lately, it has deepened suspicions that decisions to disqualify so and so have been subjective and arbitrary. Isn't it the public's understanding that returning officers are chess pieces that, though insignificant most of the time, are worthy pawns at times for grandmasters to use?

As Lau was unceremoniously removed, the scope of independence was enlarged to cover self-determination.

Worse still, people are becoming numb to a practice after it has been repeated numerous times. Small wonder the international community is saying Hong Kong's rule of law has suffered. The SAR's judiciary is sound, but the spirit of the rule of law is more than just the judiciary. It must be perceived to be being rigorously upheld at all levels.

Without Lau, the opposition is forced to field their "Plan B" candidate - Lee Cheuk-yan - to confront Chan, who was political assistant to former health minister Ko Wing-man. While claiming to be an independent, Chan is endorsed by the pro-establishment camp.

It may be a political bonus for Lee. After stepping down amid an upsurge of young radicals in the last election, Lee had never anticipated he would be able to return to the legislature again.

Perhaps, with disqualification becoming a norm, the returning officer who dispensed with Lau's political rights should remove Lee too - in view of the latter's long-standing links with the Hong Kong Alliance in Support of Patriotic Democratic Movements in China, which had been slammed by state media as subversive.

In this light, wouldn't it be more appropriate to banish Lee for good?

By the same arbitrary standards, the chess pawn should look into all the words Frederick Fung Kin-kee has voiced over the years. With luck, he may discover some remarks that fit the scope of advocating independence.

Then, at the end of the day, Chan could be the sole candidate left standing, to be returned uncontested.

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