Hong Kong litigant loses judicial challenge over new nomination rule for district council election hopefuls

A nomination requirement for candidates in this month’s Hong Kong district council poll did not constitute an excessive restriction on the constitutional right to stand for election, a court ruled on Friday as it upheld changes introduced to ensure only people found to be patriots could hold office.

The High Court dismissed a judicial review application brought by retired civil servant Kwok Cheuk-kin, who argued the new rule that prospective candidates needed to win the backing of Beijing loyalist community leaders to qualify infringed upon the right protected by the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution, and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights.

The December 10 poll, which will be the first district-level election without the pan-democrats’ involvement in almost four decades, requires candidates to first receive the blessing of three government-appointed district committees to be eligible to run.

Litigant Kwok Cheuk-kin outside the High Court after a judge dismissed a judicial review against strict nomination requirements for candidates in this month’s district council election. Photo: Brian Wong

He suggested the threshold for participation might appear stringent and a “Kafkaesque doorway” for those who lacked ties with the nominators.

Coleman highlighted the fact that more than three-quarters of the 171 candidates competing for 88 seats across 44 geographical constituencies were members of the nominating bodies.

“As it turns out, the ‘gatekeepers’ have opened the gates mainly for themselves,” Coleman said in his 90-page judgment.

Coleman also found some merit in the applicant’s contention about the lack of an effective safeguard against an arbitrary decision to refuse nomination.

Need for Hong Kong municipal bodies’ go-ahead for election candidates ‘excessive’

But he pointed out the pan-democrats’ absence in the election was insufficient proof of unfairness. He said the reasons for that could be varied and the court should not speculate on possible causes.

Coleman said the appointment of district committee members was connected to the legitimate aim of fully implementing the guiding principle of “patriots administering Hong Kong”, as well as to ensure only those dedicated to public service would be elected.

He added he considered it highly likely those with the power to nominate candidates would be aware and mindful of their duties because of the significant media coverage given to the election.

“The ‘belt and braces’ approach to ensuring some of the key elements and aims of the [electoral] reforms for administration of the district level does not seem to me to be anything like manifestly unreasonable,” Coleman said.

“It is unfair to suggest that the members of the [three district committees] would exercise their nomination powers arbitrarily, instead of by reference to the aims and objectives already identified.”

Cathay Pacific offers fare discount to Hongkongers on mainland returning to vote

Coleman criticised Kwok for a deliberate delay in the filing of the application through his adoption of a “wait-and-see” approach until he could confirm no opposition hopefuls had qualified for the election.

The court added that Kwok’s legal standing in the case was “at best doubtful” because he was no longer a voter.

But the judgment said the court had found it necessary to decide on the legal bid’s merits in the wider public interest.

The opposition won a landslide victory in the 2019 poll after months of anti-government protests, but were later accused of putting politics above community work.

Hong Kong to host large events to convince voters to stay for district poll

Beijing revised the electoral rules to install a “patriots only” system in Hong Kong after the enactment of the national security law in 2020.

The city government also defended the changes as necessary to put the municipal-level bodies back on the right track of serving the public and prevent the district councils being used to promote separatism.

The number of directly elected members was slashed to less than a fifth of the overall vacancies.

Most seats will be filled by the chief executive and district committee members and rural representatives will take the rest.

A government spokesman on Friday night said the court ruling had provided a solid legal basis for the district council election.


This website uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you accept our use of cookies.