Hong Kong legislature delays swearing in of pro-independence lawmakers amid pressure

Pro-Beijing lawmakers meeting with the media after staging a walk-out to stall the swearing in of two legislator-elects in Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Oct 19, 2016.
Pro-Beijing lawmakers meeting with the media after staging a walk-out to stall the swearing in of two legislator-elects in Hong Kong's Legislative Council on Oct 19, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

HONG KONG (Reuters) - The president of the legislature in Chinese-ruled Hong Kong delayed the swearing-in of two pro-independence lawmakers on Tuesday (Oct 25), an unprecedented move that follows weeks of intensifying pressure from factions loyal to Beijing.

The Hong Kong government last week failed to halt the swearing-in of the two newly elected lawmakers, 25-year-old Ms Yau Wai-ching and 30-year-old Mr Baggio Leung. The High Court is due to hold a judicial review of the case on Nov 3.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday, a day before the pair were due to retake their oaths, president of the Legislative Council Andrew Leung said he had made the "difficult" and "painful"decision to prevent the legislature being "ground to a halt". "I do not kneel down because of pressure. But this is an unprecedented situation," Mr Leung said.

The pair would not be allowed to be sworn in until the judicial review had been completed, he added.

He had given them the green light for another chance to take the oath last Wednesday, but pro-China lawmakers staged a walk-out from the legislature, denying the meeting a quorum.

They then wrote an open letter saying they would "use all their strength and try all means" to deny the pair the chance to take their oath.

A newly formed patriotic alliance plans to mobilize 10,000 demonstrators to rally against the pro-independence activists before Wednesday's regular meeting, while a barrage of full-paged advertisements condemning the pair flooded Hong Kong's pro-establishment newspapers last Friday.

Responding to Mr Leung's decision, the two young legislators criticised him for colluding with pro-Beijing councillors and effectively ignoring the court's denial of an injunction.

They also said they would insist on entering the council chamber on Wednesday, despite the ban. Mr Baggio Leung added they do not regret sparking a controversy and would continue to speak their mind.

"The situation is similar to the children's story, The Emperor's New Clothes," he said. "I choose to be the child in the story."

The two had displayed a "Hong Kong is not China" banner and mispronounced China as a derogatory term during their failed attempt to take an oath this month, an action that sparked "great indignation and strong condemnation" from Beijing's representative office in Hong Kong.

Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying had warned earlier on Tuesday that the city's relationship with Beijing could be hurt if the issue was not properly handled.

"If this is not handled well, I'm afraid there will be significant and long-lasting effects, because this will affect how the central government sees Hong Kong, and it will affect the relationship between Hong Kong and mainland Chinese citizens," Mr Leung said.

The promotion of independence has long been taboo in the former British colony, now governed under the "one country, two systems" principle since its return to Communist Party-ruled China in 1997.

But the topic has been gaining momentum since pro-democracy protests in late 2014 failed to gain any concession from Communist Party rulers in Beijing.