Four Hong Kong lawmakers were stripped of their seats after their swearing-in oaths were ruled invalid by the High Court yesterday.
Pro-democracy lawmakers Nathan Law, Lau Siu Lai, Edward Yiu and Leung Kwok Hung had altered their oaths at the swearing-in ceremony of the Legislative Council (Legco) on Oct 12 last year.
With two other lawmakers from the pro-democracy camp disqualified last year, the camp now has less than a third of the Legco's 70 seats and has lost its veto-wielding bloc to overturn government decisions.
Mr Sixtus Baggio Leung and Ms Yau Wai Ching, from the pro-independence Youngspiration party, were disqualified for insulting China during the oath-taking ceremony. Their actions led China's Parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC), to issue an interpretation of Article 104 of Hong Kong's Basic Law, which stated that candidates would be disqualified if they changed the wording of their oath of office or failed to take it in a "solemn and sincere" manner.
At a press conference after the judgment yesterday, the pro- democracy camp slammed the central government for launching legal proceedings and accused it of using the law as a tool against politicians. "The NPC has, through the interpretation, rewritten the election results in September last year," said Mr Leung Kwok Hung, 61.
He had held a yellow umbrella as a symbol of the 2014 pro-democracy protest as he read his oath last year, while Ms Lau, 40, took long pauses. Professor Yiu, 53, added his own words to the oath, and Mr Law, 24, changed his tone as he read the words "People's Republic of China", to make it sound like a question. All four will be appealing against the judgment.
Yesterday, Mr Law's political party, Demosisto, condemned in a statement "the manifest interference of the Beijing government to cripple Hong Kong's legislative power".
Political analyst Willy Lam said the loss of six seats could mean a significant reduction of the power of the Legco, as "one basic principle of Hong Kong's Legco system is checks and balances".
What people now fear is that the government would lay down stringent requirements for whoever wants to run. With the by-election to be held within six months, the pan-democrats are worried that the government might introduce loyalty tests for people who want to run.
POLITICAL ANALYST WILLY LAM
"What people now fear is that the government would lay down stringent requirements for whoever wants to run. With the by-election to be held within six months, the pan-democrats are worried that the government might introduce loyalty tests for people who want to run," he added.
Last year, six candidates were barred from the race after the Electoral Affairs Commission required candidates to sign a form declaring the city an "inalienable part" of China. The election saw a record turnout of 2.2 million people, or 58 per cent of 3.7 million eligible voters, and a new wave of localist candidates voted into legislature. The pro-Beijing camp secured only 40 seats in Legco.
Analysts said the seven seats won by localist candidates, who champion self-determination, represented a stern rebuke of Chinese President Xi Jinping's policies and Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying's administration in restricting democracy in Hong Kong.
With yesterday's ruling coming just a day after the death of Chinese Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, analysts say it would put pressure on the city's new leader Carrie Lam to show she is independent from Beijing.
"Her 'honeymoon' with the pan-democrats ends today," said Dr Lam, noting that Mrs Lam, 60, had made progress in her relationship with the pro-democracy camp after she was sworn in on July 1.
"The upcoming confrontation would be horrendous. Carrie cannot undo what CY Leung has already done," he added .