Hong Kong passes oath-taking law for district councilors after more than 25 quit

2021.05.12

The Hong Kong legislature has approved legal revisions which demand that elected district councilors take an oath of loyalty, even as more than 25 of the officeholders have already resigned.

Lawmakers on Wednesday resumed the second reading of the Public Offices (Candidacy and Taking Up Offices) (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill 2021, and completed the third reading less than five hours later with 40 “yes” votes and one “no.”

Many pro-Beijing lawmakers delivered speeches to support the bill. Starry Lee, chair of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, criticized some district councilors for promoting Hong Kong independence at their councils and aiming to take over the government.

Future candidates of the Legislative Council election would have wider room to participate in politics as long as they were patriotic, she said.

Another Beijing loyalist, Paul Tse, said he supported the bill on principle but could not agree with the parts that would deny lawmakers of their rights. Under the revised law, legislators may be prosecuted over remarks they make inside the LegCo chamber and will be immediately suspended from duties after the government lays charges against them.

Civic Passion lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai also said the bill was contrary to the principle of presumption of innocence. He cited the case of Jade Lai, a former political assistant to the secretary for home affairs, who migrated to Singapore a month after swearing the oath of loyalty and recently became a host for public broadcaster Radio Television Hong Kong. There were no standards as to what constituted an act of loyalty, Cheng said.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang, whose bureau was in charge of carrying out elections, said the oath requirement would be effective from May 21. Four district councilors who were disqualified while running in a now-postponed legislative election last year would lose their seats.

The Home Affairs Bureau was still trying to decide on the time and place for the oath-taking ceremony, Tsang said. A preliminary plan was for Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui to administer the event upon approval from the chief executive. Elected district councilors who failed to pledge allegiance as required would be removed from office.

Tsang rejected the idea that the bill would give too much authority to the Department of Justice. He said that the arrangement was in line with the intentions of China’s top legislature, and local lawmakers had no need to be concerned about abuse of power.

He declined to take questions from the press over the bill, given that it was introduced three months ago.

Hong Kong has 452 district council seats. More than 25 district councilors have resigned, according to a count by Apple Daily. Their reasons included being held in custody, health issues, and a refusal to take the oath.

The powers of district councils and the validity of their proceedings would not be affected by the vacancies, a government spokesperson said, citing section 72 of the District Councils Ordinance. Residents could contact government departments over district affairs, the spokesperson added.

The Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood said its 19 district councilors would take the oath, including Kalvin Ho and Sze Tak-loy, who were facing subversion charges under the city’s national security law.

The Democratic Party recommended its 80 district councilors to take the oath. Former lawmakers James To and Roy Kwong, who were arrested under the national security law but were not charged, would follow the party’s suggestion to swear in, Apple Daily learned.

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