Hong Kong's most high-profile pro-independence activist, Mr Edward Leung, has bowed to a new controversial rule forcing legislative election candidates to declare that Hong Kong is part of China.
Mr Leung, who is running in the Legislative Council elections in September, said he signed the compulsory declaration as he does not want to risk being disqualified.
But the new rule has backfired on the Hong Kong government, which has been accused of political screening after some candidates who did not sign the declaration were approved anyway.
The rule was the most contentious feature of the elections' nomination period, which closed yesterday after two weeks.
Mr Leung, who had earlier filed an application in court to challenge the new rule, changed his mind and signed the form on Thursday, although he disagreed with it.
The 25-year-old leader of radical political group Hong Kong Indigenous, which spearheaded this year's Mongkok riot, told reporters after signing the form: "I will not give the government any opportunity to question the validity of my nomination."
The confirmation form required by the Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) created a stir, with candidates from the Democratic Party and Civic Party refusing to sign it.
COVERING ALL BASES
I will not give the government any opportunity to question the validity of my nomination.
MR EDWARD LEUNG, the 25-year-old leader of radical political group Hong Kong Indigenous, which spearheaded this year's Mongkok riot.
Democratic Party lawmaker Sin Chung Kai told The Straits Times that all 22 candidates from his party did not sign the new form because they felt it was "redundant".
"Since 1997, every potential candidate needs to sign a declaration form which says that he or she will uphold the Basic Law and be loyal to the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region," said Mr Sin, who is running for a Hong Kong Island seat.
He added that it is already included in the Basic Law that Hong Kong is part of China.
Despite not signing the new form, Mr Sin said all the candidates from his party have had their nominations validated.
The EAC said in a press statement yesterday that a total of 154 nomination forms were received for the Legislative Council elections, to be held on Sept 4.
Several other young pro-independence candidates were reported to have succumbed to pressure and signed the form.
Candidates said they were not told if they could be disqualified for refusing to sign the form, which critics said was a move by the city's top officials to target the pro-independence groups.
Outgoing Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang had earlier warned the government against banning candidates over the new form. But he also urged candidates to reconsider contesting in the elections if they are unwilling to acknowledge Hong Kong as part of China.
Analyst Willy Lam sees it as another gesture by Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying to show Beijing that "he is ready and willing to pull out all the stops to fight pro-localist sentiments".
"I think it has backfired as most people are not convinced that there are sufficient grounds for the EAC to invalidate the candidacy of those who had refused to sign the new form," said Dr Lam.
Radical activists like Mr Edward Leung are said to stand a high chance of winning a seat in the upcoming elections. Mr Leung, who is contesting in New Territories East, stunned veteran politicians when he garnered 66,000 votes or 15.4 per cent of the vote in a February by-election in the New Territories.