Hong Kong Democrats divided over resigning seats in protest after election delay

By staying in office, the opposition could face accusations of siding with Beijing, potentially causing a backlash in the 2021 elections.
By staying in office, the opposition could face accusations of siding with Beijing, potentially causing a backlash in the 2021 elections.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (BLOOMBERG) - Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp is split over whether their lawmakers should step down in protest against China's decision to extend their terms without a planned election, Now TV reported.

A week-long survey of democracy supporters found slightly greater support for opposition members keeping their 23 seats on Hong Kong's 70-member Legislative Council, the broadcaster said, without providing details.

Neither side secured a majority in the poll conducted by the Hong Kong Public Opinion Research Institute, and the two sides were separated by less than two percentage points, Radio Television Hong Kong said.

Hong Kong's opposition lawmakers had commissioned the survey to help resolve a debate over whether they should resign en masse over the government's decision to a delay an election planned for Sept 6, ostensibly due to coronavirus concerns.

More radical supporters argued that staying for an extended session scheduled to begin next month risked legitimising what they see as the latest in a series of steps to weaken democratic institutions in the former British colony.

The split results of the poll leave neither side with a clear mandate before the next session of the Legislative Council starts Oct 14.

While some 15 opposition lawmakers had pledged to step down if a majority supported the move, two members - Mr Eddie Chu and Mr Raymond Chan - already announced on Monday (Sept 28) that they would resign.

The results could exacerbate divisions within Hong Kong's pro-democracy camp, already weakened after a clampdown on local opposition by China that has included a sweeping new national security law, arrests of prominent democratic figures and the mass disqualification of legislative candidates.

RADICAL VERSUS MODERATE

Any resignations in the wake of the poll are likely to play into Beijing's efforts to dismantle the opposition after it gained momentum from a landslide victory in District Council elections held last November and led a historic wave of protests against the city's Beijing-backed administration.

So-called radical members of the bloc favour stepping down as a way to delegitimise China's postponement of the LegCo election, while their moderate counterparts worry that by doing so, they would give up their biggest remaining political platform - and further enable Beijing to curb Hong Kong's civil liberties.

 
 
 

Even without a majority in the legislature, opposition politicians were able to block a China-backed Bill that would have ensured only candidates approved by the central government in Beijing could have been elected as Chief Executive.

If a number of lawmakers resign, it will make it more difficult for the group to block future Beijing-approved measures.

The opposition would also have to forfeit funds politicians are allotted to hire staff and lease offices.

By staying in office for an unelected year, the opposition could face accusations of siding with Beijing, potentially causing a backlash when the election is finally held next year.

"Moderate democrats who stay on could be accused by radical supporters of bowing to Beijing," said Professor Sonny Lo, an academic and Hong Kong political commentator.