Top Hong Kong Official Says Pan-Dem Primary May Break New Law

Primaries planned by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy opposition may violate new national security legislation, a top government official said, comments that could fuel concerns their candidates will be disqualified from a key upcoming legislative election.

Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang told the Oriental Daily newspaper on Thursday that planning and participating in primaries could violate the law’s articles of secession, subversion and collusion, as well as its “Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.” Pan-Democrat lawmakers plan to hold primary votes on Saturday and Sunday in the run-up to the Legislative Council election slated for September.

Top Hong Kong Official Says Pan-Dem Primary May Break New Law

Tsang said people have complained that the primaries intend to manipulate and interfere with the legislative vote and said some candidates had pledged to veto the government’s budget in order to paralyze it, without naming specific candidates or specifying further. He said authorities were investigating relevant complaints and would take legal action if evidence suggested the security law had been violated.

The new security law, handed down by Beijing at the end of June, has raised questions about basic freedoms in Hong Kong and its autonomy from mainland China. Tsang’s comments came the day after a new office overseeing the implementation of the law opened in the heart of the financial center.

There are fears the law will be used to prevent pan-Democrat candidates from running in September, and the Beijing-backed government and its supporters have criticized activists by name for actions that could run afoul of the security measure and other laws. The legislation is also casting doubt over the opposition’s desire to ride a landslide victory in last November’s district council vote and secure a legislative majority -- which would give it the ability to block leader Carrie Lam’s agenda and even theoretically force her to resign by rejecting her budget proposals.

Legal scholar and activist Benny Tai refuted Tsang’s remarks on Facebook, arguing that vetoing the budget was within the rights of the Legislative Council under the Basic Law, the city’s mini constitution. He also said the primary wasn’t committing “secession” or “collusion” as it didn’t have an agenda to split the country and wasn’t sourcing funds externally.

“This reading is based on common law principles,” he wrote in his post. “But the national security legislation is a mainland Chinese law and its provisions may not be explained with common sense. Such absurd conclusion can be drawn if Secretary Tsang wants to arbitrarily interpret the provisions of the national security law based on political needs, that even a community-initiated vote can be considered in violation of the national security law.”

Hong Kong students will now also be prohibited from political activity in schools including singing and boycotting classes, the city’s Education Secretary Kevin Yeung said Wednesday, after young people helped lead months of pro-democracy demonstrations in the city.

“Schools must not allow their students to play, sing or broadcast any songs which will disrupt the normal operation of schools, affect students’ emotions or contain political messages,” he said in a statement.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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