Sunday’s Hong Kong Legislative Council (LegCo) elections turned a number of young anti-Beijing activists into lawmakers. Before they start their new job, China wants to make sure that they know the ground rules first.
Following the record-breaking election, the Chinese government issued its “firm opposition” to any pro-independence activities, either on the council or outside of it, and warned that they will impose punishment in accordance with the law on legislatures who back independence.
According to AFP, a Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council spokesperson said that some of the LegCo candidates had used the tumultuous election campaign as a platform to publicly advocate for independence, which goes against China’s constitution and Hong Kong’s Basic Law.
Pro-democracy legislatures took 19 out of the 35 seats that were up for grabs in the election, giving them 30 total seats in the 70-member LegCo. The new lawmakers include at least five young candidates who have advocated in the past for Hong Kong’s right to self-determination.
The most familiar of those faces is that of 23-year-old Nathan Law, one of the student leaders of the 2014 Occupy protests and a founding member of the Demosisto party, along with Joshua Wong. In the past, Law and Demosisto have called for an open referendum on the city’s future.
Law argues that technically this isn’t promoting independence. “I’m not advocating independence, I’m advocating Hong Kong people should enjoy [their] rights of self-determination,” he told the BBC after Chinese state media published the warning.
Prior to the election, it was announced that all LegCo candidates would have to submit a nomination form to run, part of that was a pledge affirming that Hong Kong is a part of China. Some pro-independence candidates were disqualified from running for failing to sign the pledge. In response, protesters held the largest pro-independence rally in the city’s history.
This LegCo election, the first since the 2014 Occupy protests, was considered to be the most important one in Hong Kong’s history since the city was handed back over to China. Many believe that the principle of “one country, two systems” is quickly being eroded away by Beijing and pro-democracy — not to mention pro-independence — sentiment has been spreading, especially among the young people. Large numbers of them turned out to vote, resulting in a record 58% voter turnout.
While the election was a victory for Hong Kong’s opposition parties, the LegCo still remains controlled by pro-Beijing lawmakers. Only 35 out of the 70 Legislative Council seats are directly elected by the city’s 3.8 million registered voters. Another 30 seats are so-called “functional constitutes” who represent various professions and trades, and mostly lean toward Beijing. By winning enough seats in this election, the opposition camp maintains their one-third veto power, allowing them to block major legislation and public funding.
On October 1st, new lawmakers will have to swear an oath to uphold the constitution before taking their seats on the LegCo. Of course, this document describes Hong Kong as part of China.