While the world focuses on the aftermath of Brexit, the upcoming Trump Presidency, and the highly possible rise of far-right parties in Europe, no one seems to have noticed that a city in the Far East is almost brought to its knees.
Ever since the handover, the road for Hong Kong has not been easy. Without the ability to choose their own Chief Executive, the only little control Hong Kong people have over the government is through the Legislative Council. Even then, only 35 out of 70 councillors are elected democratically.
In September, Hong Kong had its most chaotic election ever. With a torn society and the Central government’s stricter control, Hongkongers are now left with a non-functioning legislature, as lawsuits continue. During the election, the Beijing government had clearly further tightened its control over the city, after the launch of an unprecedented ‘Confirmation Form' requiring all candidates wishing to run to vow that they abide by the Basic Law and agree that Hong Kong is an inseparable part of China. Even after signing the form, six people, including ‘localist' candidate Edward Leung, were banned from running.
The situation turned from bad to worse during the campaigning period. Accusations of the Central Government funding pro-Beijing candidates were all across the city. Even though there was no solid proof, candidates admitted to being in contact with Beijing nonetheless. Ken Chow of the Liberal Party dropped out after claiming to be threatened by supporters of another candidate, Junius Ho.
The whole election was focused on the execution of the "One Country, Two Systems" policy, the call for Hong Kong's self-determination, and the Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s possible re-election. This election was seen as unpredictable as there were a record-breaking number of new rising parties, among those include Demosistō, Youngspiration, and Land Justice League. With the highest electoral turnout in the city’s history, a couple of traditional big names were defeated surprisingly, including Proleteriats Political Institute’s Wong Yuk-man. Instead, six localists were elected into the council, with Eddie Chu of the Land Justice League winning over eighty thousand votes, the highest in his constituency.
Just when everyone thought that the noise would finally quiet down, and everyone would carry on with their lives after the election, the farce regarding the swearing-in process of the newly elected legislators broke out. Since the handover, lawmakers have been using different methods to express their views in the swearing-in process. Leung Kwok-hung has been using props and altering the wording of the oath as a mean of protest. He was involved in several Judicial Review because of his action, but none of it affected his role as a legislator. However, the situation is different this time.
Two young legislators, Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching, stirred controversy in their swearing-in process. They displayed a flag saying ‘Hong Kong is not China', and changed ‘The People's Republic of China' to ‘the People's Republic of Chee-na’ and ‘the People’s Re-f**king of Chee-na', a degrading term used in the Japanese Invasion period. The President of the Legislative Council, Andrew Leung, was first willing to schedule another ceremony for them to retake their oaths, but later withdrew his decision after the Pro-Beijing Camp staged a walkout and paralysed the council. Parts of society have taken Leung and Yau’s behaviour as an insult, and so did the government. Both the Hong Kong government and Beijing viewed this as a promotion for Hong Kong independence, and decided that this must be stopped. As a result, the Department of Justice filed for a Judicial Review of the legitimacy of the oaths, and before the court announced its ruling, the Central Government took the initiative to publish its interpretation of the relevant clause of the Basic Law.
The whole ‘oathgate' has shown the fundamental contradiction in the ‘One Country, Two Systems' policy, as there is no right balance between the two alternatives that will satisfy both Beijing and the Hong Kong people.
The Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress stated that Legislators and government officials must "take the oath sincerely and solemnly, and must accurately, completely and solemnly read out the oath prescribed by law...". The interpretation also specified that "if the oath taken is determined as invalid, no arrangement shall be made for retaking the oath". After the publishing of Beijing’s ruling, Leung and Yau’s seats were subsequently ruled as invalid, and their request to appeal to the court’s decision was rejected.
The disqualification of the two seats was just the beginning. Soon after the court’s ruling, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announced that the government was looking into the possible judicial review of other legislators in the non-establishment camp. Many expected legal tug of war to go on for a longer period.
This whole situation brings out the question of Hong Kong’s judicial independence. The case has set a destructive precedent, as the Beijing government can now freely ‘interpret’ the Basic Law when they see fit, even if it involves Hong Kong’s internal affairs. Furthermore, DoJ’s actions were seen as more political than legal in this incident. This may imply that Hong Kong is decaying to the fall of the separation of powers. While the legal sector and the public have spoken against the Central Government's intervention, their voices are still ignored. As the Chief Executive election approaches, many see this as Leung's plan for his re-election, to suppress the voices calling for independence, even though he was the one who brought the issue under the spotlight in the first place.
The whole ‘oathgate' has shown the fundamental contradiction in the ‘One Country, Two Systems' policy, as there is no right balance between the two alternatives that will satisfy both Beijing and the Hong Kong people. As the 2047 deadline approaches, and debates on Hong Kong's future evolve, it becomes clearer that Hong Kong’s status as an international financial centre and its respect towards democracy and the rule of law weigh less than the Central government’s aim to unify the country. TMM