Hong Kong's Legislative Council chamber. Photo: RTHK

Two announcements this week mean Hong Kong’s pan-democrats will no longer have veto power in the chamber. The first was that 12 people have been banned from participating in the Legislative Council (LegCo) election and the second was the postponement of the process for one year.

Although many people were not surprised by the two announcements, which were made on Thursday and Friday, respectively, it remained unclear why the Hong Kong government insisted on disqualifying pro-democracy candidates if it had planned to postpone the election.

It was also odd that some candidates were not disqualified after refusing to sign the confirmation form, which required them to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the special administrative region.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said Friday that the banning of the 12 election applicants was aimed at preventing hostile forces from taking over the council and also showing that Beijing would not bow to Western sanctions pressure.

Lau said the coming LegCo election was not an internal matter of Hong Kong as it involved national security and collusion between foreign and local forces. He said the central government had to intervene in this election as the United States had vowed to end the Chinese Communist Party’s regime. He said more candidates could be disqualified.

On July 15, US President Donald Trump signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act and issued an executive order to impose a series of sanctions against those believed to be undermining Hong Kong people’s freedom and the city’s autonomy. About a week later, pro-Beijing people started calling for the LegCo election to be delayed because of the pandemic.

On July 23, Robert Chow, founder of HKgpao.com, a pro-Beijing website, said electoral officers should disqualify candidates before the Hong Kong government postpones the election.

On July 25, Jasper Tsang, the former president of LegCo and a pro-Beijing heavyweight, said if the election is delayed for one 12 months, an emergency session of the LegCo should be formed by the existing 70 lawmakers. However, Tsang added that it did not mean that their terms were extended.

The suggestions made by Chow and Tsang sounded strange but they have actually resulted in the pan-democrats no longer being able to veto important government bills in the legislative body.

In January this year, pro-democracy politicians Au Nok-hin and Gary Fan lost their seats in the LegCo after their election results were declared invalid by a court due to an incorrect disqualification decision made by electoral officers concerning two previous lawmakers. The number of democratic lawmakers fell from 26 to 24.

On Thursday, four Civic Party lawmakers were among the 12 disqualified people. That means if an emergency session of the LegCo convenes in October, the number of democrats will be down to 20, less than one-third of all members.

In Hong Kong, the government must gather more than two-thirds of the votes in the LegCo to reform the city’s political system. 

In 2015, 27 pan-democrats vetoed a political reform package, which they dismissed as “fake universal suffrage,” for the 2017 Chief Executive election. Some Hong Kong political commentators had warned that if Beijing disqualified more pro-democracy lawmakers, it would relaunch a political reform initiative to increase its control in the LegCo and Chief Executive elections.

In fact, after the overwhelming victory in the District Council election last November, the pro-democracy camp won 117 more votes on top of its 327 votes in the 1,200-strong Election Committee, reducing Beijing’s influence in the 2022 Chief Executive election.

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