The SAR was dealt a severe blow when Yuen Long District Officer Enoch Yuen Ka-lok exercised his authority as the returning officer to declare lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick unfit to run in a local village committee election - on the grounds that Chu wasn't categorical in denouncing independence for Hong Kong.
If the decision was claimed to have upheld the "rule of law," it has done so in an ugly way.
Since the previous administration introduced the innovative Confirmation Form, various candidates have been barred from contesting Legislative Council elections. The most recent person banned was Labor Party candidate Lau Siu-lai, who sought to run in the Legco by-election for Kowloon West.
Disqualification has become so frequent that it's already a new normal in the city's political life. But what's probably unexpected is that it could sink so low. How low can it go? It has no limit - as low as the authorities desire.
By now, it's abundantly clear Chu - whose candidacy was upheld during the 2016 Legco election - will be unable to run in the 2019 District Council elections and 2020 Legco elections because, while he was considered fit to run before, he's no longer deemed acceptable under the political standards today.
When the Confirmation Form was first introduced, candidates openly advocating independence were disqualified. The doors to political participation have since narrowed further. Now, even someone who doesn't openly speak for independence would also be deemed to be "implicitly" supportive of independence if he or she doesn't publicly dispute such an idea.
It's bad for electoral development.
When a system allows someone to be screened arbitrarily - as in Chu's case - on the basis of one's past rather than his or her work at present and promises for the future, would elections lose the meaning as generally appreciated?
If the doors are allowed to narrow even further, will there come a day when people would be asked to pledge ideological loyalty when they register as voters, run for neighborhood associations, or apply to teach at government-funded schools?
In disqualifying Chu, the returning officer apparently tried to be seen as having reached his decision after careful consideration. However, it was indeed arbitrary - in fact, probably the most arbitrary example so far.
The right to run in an election is of paramount importance for every citizen. A series of disqualifications have already established a trend in which citizens can be readily stripped of this right by a middle-ranking civil servant without proper judicial process.
If candidates in the past were found guilty because of what they had said, they are now convicted over their failing to say what the authorities want to hear. What else could it be if it wasn't an absurd display of "rule of law?"
The returning officer is just a tool of the political process. As he disqualified Chu - the lawmaker who topped the polls in the 2016 Legco elections - Yuen hammered another nail into the coffin of the rule of law that people generally understand.