Top Hong Kong official says pan-Dem primaries may break new security law

HONG KONG • Primaries planned by Hong Kong's pro-democracy opposition may violate new national security legislation, a top government official has said, comments that could fuel concerns that their candidates will be disqualified from a key upcoming legislative election.

Secretary for Mainland and Constitutional Affairs Erick Tsang told the Oriental Daily newspaper yesterday that planning and participating in primaries could violate the law's articles of secession, subversion and collusion, as well as its "Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance".

Pan-Democrat lawmakers plan to hold primary votes tomorrow and on Sunday in the run-up to the Legislative Council election slated for September.

Mr Tsang said people have complained that the primaries intend to manipulate and interfere with the legislative vote, and said some candidates had pledged to veto the government's budget in order to paralyse it, without naming specific candidates or giving more details.

He added that the authorities were investigating relevant complaints and would take legal action if evidence suggested the security law had been violated.

There are fears that the law will be used to prevent pan-Democrat candidates from running in the September polls.

The legislation is also casting doubt over the opposition's desire to ride a landslide victory in last November's district council vote and secure a legislative majority - which would give it the ability to block Chief Executive Carrie Lam's agenda and even theoretically force her to resign by rejecting her budget proposals.

Legal scholar and activist Benny Tai refuted Mr Tsang's remarks on Facebook, arguing that vetoing the budget was within the rights of the Legislative Council under the Basic Law, the city's mini-Constitution.

He also said the primary was not committing "secession" or "collusion" as it did not have an agenda to split the territory and was not sourcing funds externally.

"Such absurd conclusion can be drawn if Secretary Tsang wants to arbitrarily interpret the provisions of the national security law based on political needs, that even a community-initiated vote can be considered in violation of the national security law."

BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2020, with the headline 'Top Hong Kong official says pan-Dem primaries may break new security law'. Print Edition | Subscribe