Hong Kong’s decision to ban 12 democracy candidates from running for office has set a major precedent and could signal the end of meaningful political opposition in the city.
The group, disqualified from challenging the upcoming elections to the city’s legislature, includes prominent student activist Joshua Wong, but also moderates four actors, such as Alvin Yung, who represents Hong Kong̵
Previously, more radical candidates were barred from running, while others prevented them from taking office after winning. But recent decisions stipulate that the authorities even want to remove the hardened dissent from the halls of power. Many were elected in primary elections, which attracted hundreds of thousands of voters.
“Obviously, the Chinese Communist Party has decided to use this opportunity in the upcoming election to show the Hong Kong people and the rest of the world that they have reworked the whole game,” said Kenneth Chan Ka-lok, a political scientist at Hong Kong Baptist University and a former democracy lawmaker.
“This is no longer one country, two systems,” he said, referring to a system agreed before the surrender of Hong Kong by British colonial rule, which aimed to guarantee the city’s significant autonomy by 2047. “If the regime cannot even if it lasts moderately … we are moving very fast towards a one-party system in Hong Kong. “
The disqualifications were made by employees who returned at a low level, but were probably sanctioned at much higher levels, said Kai Chi Leung, a professor at the School of Journalism and Communication at China University in Hong Kong.
“In last year’s district council election, we actually had a returning employee who didn’t want to disqualify a candidate and had to ask for sick leave so that another person could take her place (and sign the waiver document),” she said.
“Steps have probably been taken to select the returnees in this round so that such an awkward situation does not happen again.”
Reasons for the bans include opposition to the controversial national security law Beijing introduced in the city last month, and efforts to lobby foreign governments for sanctions against human rights abuses.
These campaigns come before the law on national security comes into force. But in an embarrassing indication of how widely the authorities can enforce it, a returning official said earlier legal behavior gave an idea of the candidates’ “true intentions” that led to their withdrawal.
“This is a scandalous political purge of the Hong Kong Democrats,” said Chris Patton, Hong Kong’s last British governor. “Obviously it’s illegal now to believe in democracy … that’s the behavior you’d expect in a police state.”
There is little room for appeal; previous attempts to lift the disqualification have succeeded only for technical reasons, and this year the authorities will follow the procedure carefully.
The disqualifications come the same week a prominent commissioned professor was fired over his campaign for democracy and the arrest of four young activists facing life in prison under national security law.
There are also reports that the election may be postponed, which will leave more room for the authorities to effectively dismantle the political system that has given Hong Kong a limited form of democracy and autonomy for 23 years.
“This could signal the end of the opposition inside the system, as election laws could be completely rewritten to make it impossible or irrelevant for the opposition to run again,” Long said.