Election ban for oath abusers

Top News | Michael Shum and Erin Chan 24 Feb 2021

Lawmakers and district councilors will be suspended if they are suspected of having breached their oaths and barred from standing in elections for five years after they are disqualified, according to the government's latest legislative proposal.

Four district councilors who were disqualified in the postponed Legislative Council election last year - Fergus Leung Fong-wai, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai and Cheng Tat-hung - will lose their seats when the changes come into effect, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang Kwok-wai said yesterday.

Under existing regulations, only Legco members are required to take oaths to pledge allegiance to the SAR government and the Basic Law.

In a bill to amend the Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) Ordinance proposed by the bureau and endorsed by the Executive Council yesterday, the oath-taking requirement will be expanded to cover district councilors.

The bill will be gazetted Friday and tabled to Legco on March 17.

Explaining the bill yesterday, Tsang said the bureau will introduce a list of criteria to determine oath breaches for legislative and district councilors.

Apart from endangering national security and advocating Hong Kong independence, refusing to recognize the jurisdiction that China has over Hong Kong or Hong Kong's constitutional position as a SAR are also among the list of actions regarded as breaching the oath.

Members should not also take part in activities that hamper Hong Kong's overall interest and the political order led by the chief executive.

Those who publicly insult the flag and emblem of the SAR will be breaching their oaths.

Once a councilor is suspected to have violated the oaths, they will be suspended from work until a court decision is made.

"The secretary for justice will take legal proceedings if it is found that a councilor has breached his or her oath, during which the duties of the councilor would be suspended until the court reaches a decision," Tsang said.

"If the councilor is found to have breached the oath, he or she would not be allowed to take part in elections in the next five years, counting from the day of his or her disqualification."

Although the amendment bill will not be retrospective, Tsang said he cannot rule out that past actions of councilors will not be taken into account when deciding if they have breached their oaths.

He admitted four district councilors who were disqualified in the Legco election will be unseated, as they were found to have failed to uphold the Basic Law.

Tsang also dismissed claims that the amendment is yet another crackdown on the pro-democracy camp, as he said the government is only carrying out its constitutional obligation following the National People's Congress standing committee's interpretation of the Basic Law during the oath-taking saga in 2016, which saw four lawmakers unseated.

In response, Lester Shum said the proposal will lead to the complete stifling of freedom of speech.

"People who speak against the government and against the Chinese Communist Party risk losing their political right of standing for elections," he said. The criteria for disqualification are "lawless and irrational," he added.

"What constitutes 'sincerely safeguarding the Basic Law and the Chinese constitution? It is a blurry line such definitions are not something we are familiar with."

As he will be disqualified once the amendment is passed, he plans to execute his duties until he is disqualified.

Leticia Wong Man-huen, Civic Party member and Sha Tin councilor, said it was unreasonable of Tsang to rule the four would lose their seats after the amendment is vetted by Legco next month.

"Returning officers have ruled they failed to safeguard the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the SAR in 2019, but that's in the past already," Wong said, adding the bill has yet to be passed at Legco.

She said she would see if she would take the oath under the amendment's requirements and discuss it with party colleagues.

"I think either way - whether my teammates take oaths or not - are correct decisions But I hope we can stand in solidarity on this matter."

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