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Hong Kong passes law on allegiance pledge for local council members

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam listens to questions during a news conference in Hong Kong, on May 11, 2021. (AP Photo/Vincent Yu)

HONG KONG (Kyodo) -- Hong Kong's legislature passed a law on Wednesday enabling the disqualification of elected local council members who fail to pledge allegiance to the government, in a move seen as targeting the pro-democracy camp that won a majority of seats.

    Elected candidates, including members of the District Council who were not required to take an oath of office, will have to swear allegiance to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region government and to uphold the Basic Law, the mini-constitution in effect since the former British colony's handover to Chinese rule in 1997.

    "If a member does not comply with the statutory requirement of upholding the Basic Law and swearing allegiance to the Hong Kong SAR, the member will automatically be disqualified," Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Erick Tsang said in the legislature. "We believe that this decision is in line with the overall interest of Hong Kong."

    A similar oath of allegiance is already required of the territory's chief executive, Cabinet members, judges and legislators.

    Elected members will be disqualified for violating their oath if they are found to have endangered national security, refused to recognize China's sovereignty over Hong Kong, promoted independence, sought foreign interference in Hong Kong affairs or harmed the overall interests of Hong Kong.

    Disqualified members will be barred from standing in elections for five years.

    The new legislation also stipulates how elected members should behave when taking the oath, and they could still be disqualified if deemed not to have behaved genuinely.

    Following the 2016 legislative election, six elected lawmakers were disqualified over their protesting behavior when taking the oath of office, including pro-independence Sixtus Leung and Yau Wai-ching, who pronounced "China" as "Shina," an archaic Japanese name for China which has been regarded by many Chinese people as derogatory. Yau also inserted an expletive in her oath.

    The saga prompted China's parliament in 2016 to give an explanation to the Basic Law over the legal requirements of a valid oath, and in 2020 to impose an anti-subversion law requiring elected members to public offices to take an oath.

    The new legislation will be officially implemented on May 21 and a mass oath-taking ceremony will likely be held by end of May, local media reported.

    More than 25 District Council members have already resigned, including those who do not want to take the oath they said would facilitate political suppression.

    The councils, which mainly advise the government on social welfare matters, were traditionally a stronghold of the pro-establishment camp. But in the 2019 elections, the pro-democracy camp captured 389 of 452 elected seats across 18 districts.

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