A Labour Party veteran was on Thursday night preparing to enter next month’s legislative by-election, as the candidacy of the pro-democracy bloc’s pick hung in the balance and the nomination deadline loomed.
Former lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan, who planned to hand in his papers on Friday, would serve as the “plan B” candidate should his party colleague Lau Siu-lai be barred from the race.
Lau, one of six lawmakers removed from the Legislative Council in 2016 and 2017 for improperly taking their oaths, pledged to make a comeback via the Kowloon West by-election on November 25. But some supporters feared her previous calls for self-determination would put her candidacy at risk.
In January, the government sparked a political storm by barring young activist Agnes Chow Ting from an election because her party, Demosisto, advocated self-determination.
Lau on Thursday criticised the Registration and Electoral Office for what she said was a slow vetting process.
“I have already filed the documents on the very first day [of nominations],” the 42-year-old social science lecturer at Polytechnic University’s Hong Kong Community College said. Nominations opened on October 2.
“Whether my candidacy is valid or not, they should at least allow some time for us to raise and respond to the questions.”
Calls for self-determination were conspicuously absent from Lau’s latest election platform. She also reiterated she had never supported Hong Kong independence.
Lau revealed that election officials had yet to approach her with any inquiries, four days before nominations close.
The High Court ruled in a separate election petition that poll staff have a duty to give candidates “a reasonable chance” to respond if there are doubts over their candidacy.
Lee, who planned to withdraw from the race once Lau’s candidacy is validated, said he feared the electoral office might “play tricks”.
“I worried that the electoral office would not confirm Lau’s eligibility before the nomination period closes,” he said. “In that case I would not be able to withdraw from the race even when Lau is in. That would only create confusion among voters.”
Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen declined to comment on whether a disqualified lawmaker could run in a by-election.
“Under the existing law in the ordinance, it has empowered the returning officer to decide on the validity of the nomination, having regard to the information [about the applicant] that he has,” Nip said, adding that the law also required candidates to uphold the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Franco Kwok Wai-fun, the returning officer for the by-election, declined to comment on whether Lau was cleared to run. His office only referred the inquiry to the electoral office.
Former journalist and government political assistant Chan Hoi-yan and former pan-democratic lawmaker Frederick Fung Kin-kee, previously with the Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood, will also run in the November polls.
Former radical lawmaker Raymond Wong Yuk-man declared on his social media page that he would make an important announcement on Saturday, fuelling speculation he would join the race. That would further damage Lau’s chances, by leaving her up against two fellow democrats, in Fung and Wong.