Following the report on political screening in Hong Kong published in July, Civil Rights Observer today (24 August) publishes a brief report on the Legislation Election originally scheduled in September 2020, analysing the reasonings of 12 disqualifications. Civil Rights Observer is of the view that the Returning Officers (ROs) politically screened out pro-democracy candidates according to the legal framework of the newly enacted National Security Law. The inconsistent criteria and biased reasoning applied unavoidably raise a question to whether the reasons for disqualifications were piled up after the ROs reached the decisions. Such an electoral arrangement undermines the procedural justice and falls short of the international standards.
As demonstrated in the brief report, the disqualification reasonings were based on candidates’ political doctrine and political affiliation, violating their rights to freedom of association, rights to participate in public affairs, rights to vote and to stand for election – which are enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). No one shall be discriminated against on political grounds and everyone has the freedom to pursue different political ideologies, even those that are “unpopular with the authorities”, for the sake of upholding the integrity of election. (Note 1)
A genuinely democratic, effective election should also guarantee a free expression of the will of electors to maintain the pluralism of a democratic society. Among the 12 disqualified candidates, 9 of whom had won in the unofficial primaries, received altogether 298,000 votes. (Note 2) The disqualifications not only ignore a tremendous public opinion, but also limit choices of tens of thousands of electors.
“Arbitrary disqualification of candidates by the government has become the new normal, coming in a larger scale with even more far-fetched reasonings than ever. This fundamentally harms the integrity and the legitimacy of elections,” Icarus Wong from Civil Rights Observer criticised.
Moreover, while election petition is the only available appeal mechanism for disqualified candidates, it is neither an effective nor a timely remedy. The uncertainty of the result caused by disqualifications may also hinder the performance of public duty of the elect. Even if the disqualification decisions were overturned by the court, the government which allowed the wrongful disqualifications to take place in the first place bore no responsibility. It is extremely regrettable that the government flagrantly disregards the rights to vote and to stand for election without any consequence.
Note 1: Report of the Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, A/68/299.
Note 2: Total number of votes received by the 9 disqualified candidates in pro-democracy primaries.