The entirety of Hong Kong’s elected pro-democracy opposition announced its resignation Wednesday in protest over the expulsion of four lawmakers. The dramatic move comes after Beijing passed a resolution giving local authorities broad new powers to quash dissent, likely signaling the end of political opposition in the city.
The resolution, passed by China’s highest legislative body, allows Hong Kong’s executive to expel elected lawmakers directly without having to go through the courts, cementing Beijing’s control over the semi-autonomous territory.
Under the new ruling, lawmakers who are deemed to promote or support Hong Kong independence, or who refuse to acknowledge Beijing’s sovereignty, will “immediately lose their qualifications,” the resolution said.
It also applies to elected lawmakers who “seek foreign forces to intervene in the affairs of Hong Kong, or who have endangered national security” and who “fail to uphold the Basic Law” — the city’s mini constitution — as well as those who are deemed “not loyal to the legal requirements and conditions” of the territory.
Pro-democracy lawmakers join hands at the start of a press conference in a Legislative Council office in Hong Kong on Wednesday.
The four legislators, Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, Kwok Ka-ki and Kenneth Leung, were immediately disqualified from the city’s Legislative Council following the ruling, the Hong Kong government said. The four were previously barred from running in now postponed legislative elections earlier this year.
The ruling means that Beijing has effectively closed off one of the few remaining avenues open to Hong Kong residents to voice political dissent, following the imposition of a sweeping national security law in June criminalizing subversion.
The government clampdown comes in response to months of pro-democracy protests, which at their height last summer attracted more than 1 million people, and plunged the city into political crisis.
Some Hong Kong activists including former lawmakers and protest leaders have sought political asylum in other countries, fearing for their safety under the new measures.
In a show of solidarity on Monday, the city’s 15 remaining pro-democracy lawmakers announced they would step down en masse, saying that the “One Country Two Systems” framework that had meant to provide Hong Kong with greater autonomy from the mainland is now officially dead.
At a press conference announcing the mass resignation on Wednesday, Dennis Kwok, one of the four disqualified lawmakers, said that Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam had “sought to turn the Legislative Council into a one party system.”
“It is ridiculous that the government has completely given up the Basic Law and ‘One Country Two Systems’,” he said. “The Legislative Council has the responsibility to check the government.”
Kwok said that the pan democratic lawmakers “will stand together with our disqualified colleagues and we will today all resign together.” The group said they would hand in their resignations in the legislative chamber together on Thursday.
Before their announcement, pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo told CNN that the authorities “have practically put the nail into Hong Kong’s democracy fight. “
“From now on, anyone deemed to be politically incorrect will not be allowed to run in the election,” she said. “They are making sure only patriots can join Hong Kong’s political election.”
China’s National People’s Congress Standing Committee (NPCSC) passed the resolution following a meeting in Beijing on Monday. The move is a latest in a months long clampdown on opposition and pro-democracy voices in the city, following last year’s anti-government protest movement.
Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, said in a press conference Wednesday that those who do not respect China’s sovereignty “cannot genuinely perform their duties as legislators.”
“I welcome diverse opinion in the Legislative Council and respect the checks and balances,” Lam said, adding that, “all of those responsibilities must be exercised responsibly.”
Though a part of China, Hong Kong has its own legal and political system, with limited democracy and greater personal freedoms than on the mainland.
Opposition lawmakers — the democratic camp — held a minority in the 70-member Legislative Council and had often resorted to filibustering and other procedural tactics to slow down legislation they saw as diminishing those social freedoms.
RTHK previously reported that Beijing was seeking to unseat the now disqualified lawmakers for violating Hong Kong’s Basic Law by filibustering meetings. Emily Lau, former chair for the Democratic Party, said that she believed the Hong Kong government and the ruling Communist Party in Beijing had become frustrated with these tactics.
“It is absolutely devastating,” said Lau, a former Legislative Council member, of the new resolution. “We have procedures in the Basic Law if you want to kick out a legislator but they have just ignored all that … there’s no rule of law. It’s sending a very bad signal to Hong Kong and the world.”
Lau said that the broad definition of new ruling means it could be applied to “almost half of the population” and that the only people who could now run for government would be those who would “kowtow to Beijing.”
In July, 12 pro-democracy candidates, including the now-excluded four, were disqualified from standing in now-postponed legislative elections on the grounds that they would not uphold the city’s mini-constitution.
They included prominent Hong Kong activist and former leader of the 2014 Umbrella Movement Joshua Wong, and a number of candidates from more traditional pro-democracy parties, as well as several young activists who cut their political teeth in last year’s pro-democracy protest movement.
The legislative election, which had been scheduled for September 6, was postponed in July for 12 months due to coronavirus concerns. But some pro-democracy activists claimed the government was using the pandemic as an excuse to indefinitely postpone a crucial election for Hong Kong.
Just under half the seats in the Legislative Council are controlled by so-called functional constituencies, which represent business and society groups and are typically pro-government. The rest go to candidates in geographical constituencies, and before the election postponement, opposition parties had aimed to ride a wave of discontent with the government to fill those seats.
Critics now fear that with Beijing’s ruling and the expulsion of democracy lawmakers, Hong Kong’s parliament may just become a rubber stamp body for pro-Beijing policies.
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