By Austin Ramzy
This article first appeared in The New York Times on 12 October 2018
Link to original article: HERE
HONG KONG — The Hong Kong government on Friday disqualified a democracy advocate from running for a seat on the local legislature, the latest in a series of moves that have undermined the political power of the opposition camp in the semiautonomous Chinese city.
A local government officer told the democracy advocate, Lau Siu-lai, a community college lecturer and member of the city’s Labour Party, late Friday that she was ineligible to run in a November special election.
Ms. Lau had previously been elected to the seat in 2016. But the government stripped her of the post after only a few days, disqualifying her for reading her oath of office very slowly in an act of protest. Six legislators lost their seats over protests related to their oaths, a serious blow to the democratic camp.
Hong Kong, a former British colony that returned to China in 1997, has its own local government. While half of its legislature is directly elected, efforts to expand democracy beyond that have met with little success.
The democratic camp has protested the barring of candidates and removal of elected lawmakers who have questioned Hong Kong’s future as a part of China. They accuse the authorities of relying on technicalities to remove lawmakers who have won popular support.
The government has said that it must ensure legislators are sincere in their belief that Hong Kong is an “inalienable part” of China. Many of the legislators ousted after the 2016 election, including Ms. Lau, were part of a wave of young activists who took to electoral politics after the 2014 protests known as the Umbrella Movement, which sought more open local elections.
Hong Kong officials said Ms. Lau was disqualified because of a previous statement that Hong Kong residents should be allowed to choose the territory’s political future, including the possibility of independence.
“The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws, since advocating or promoting ‘self-determination,’ or promoting independence” contradicts the declaration of fealty that candidates are required to make, the government said in a statement.
Ms. Lau, seeking to distance herself from her 2016 stances, has said she does not support Hong Kong’s independence from China.
She and her party said in a statement on Friday that they “condemned the government’s coarse interference in an election, ignoring a candidate’s right to run for office and the voters’ aspirations.” They accused the government of “again and again using political methods to suppress dissent,” while clearing the way for establishment politicians.
Fearing the possibility of a late disqualification after the nomination period closed, the Labour Party nominated a second candidate for the seat. Lee Cheuk-yan, a former legislator, filed on Friday as a backup candidate for Ms. Lau.
The Hong Kong government prohibited at least three pro-democracy candidates from running in a March election, including Agnes Chow, a prominent student leader during the 2014 protests. In that election the pro-democracy camp lost two seats, further weakening its declining clout in the local legislature.