Do Electoral Affairs’ returning officers have the right to disqualify candidates for their political views?

Do Electoral Affairs’ returning officers have the right to disqualify candidates for their political views?

Legal experts on the political power of returning officers


Edward Leung is one of the six candidates to be told by a returning officer that their nominations are not valid.
Photo: David Wong/SCMP

A barrister has cast doubt over whether the city’s returning officers have the right to disqualify candidates’ nominations for their political views, after six pro-independence candidates were barred from September’s Legislative Council elections.

Cora Ho Lai-sheung, the returning officer for New Territories East, invalidated the candidacy of Edward Leung Tin-kei on Tuesday. Ho ruled Leung had no intention of upholding the Basic Law – even though he complied with the election rules by signing a form saying the city is unquestionably a part of mainland China.

But barrister Wilson Leung Wan-shun, of the Progressive Lawyers Group, told Young Post that returning officers’ power is confined to administrative and procedural matters, such as the candidate’s failure to complete the form.

“Returning officers should not analyse candidates’ political stances by gathering evidence on social media,” said Leung.

Independence advocate Edward Leung disqualified from September’s Legislative Council elections

He added that as civil servants, returning officers should be neutral and avoid political judgements.

“You would be convicted of ‘Inciting Subversion of State Power’ if you discuss separation and independence on the mainland. But this law doesn’t apply in the city, and the Basic Law Article 23 [which would prohibit secession] has never been passed here,” he said.

“Candidates should be allowed to discuss anything. It is also doubtful whether their speech or behaviour could be regarded as evidence for disqualification.”

But another barrister, Ronny Tong Ka-wah, said the decision was legal, as Edward Leung’s earlier speeches had gone against the Legislative Council Ordinance.

On Tuesday night, Leung was a guest at the Electoral Affairs Commission briefing.

The event was chaotic, as pan-democrats and localist supporters disrupted the session, forcing the commission to end the briefing.




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