Green light for by-election replacement for Agnes Chow but another young activist barred from contest

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Electoral officials on Wednesday gave the green light to the candidate put forward by Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp to replace activist Agnes Chow Ting in the March 11 by-election.

Au Nok-hin, a southern district councillor, had submitted nominations for his candidacy on Saturday as part of a backup plan by the city’s political opposition after officials rejected Chow last week on the grounds that her party, Demosisto, had called for “self-determination” for Hong Kong.

That aim was deemed incompatible with electoral rules introduced to curb advocacy of the city breaking away from Chinese rule.

I didn’t have a hand in activist Agnes Chow’s election ban, says Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam

But as they confirmed Au as a candidate, election authorities quashed another young activist’s bid to contest the New Territories East seat, on the grounds that he had expressed “apparent reluctance” to denounce his earlier stance of supporting Hong Kong independence.

In a letter sent to Ventus Lau Wing-hong on Wednesday, Amy Chan Yuen-man, the returning officer for the constituency, said she was not satisfied that he had ditched his previous position, even though he had earlier made a declaration saying so.

Chan cited a number of statements Lau posted on Facebook in 2016 – where he reiterated his support for Hong Kong independence – as well as a statement made in December where he made a U-turn.

Both Lau and legal scholars slammed the decision, as they argued the government should not trawl through what a hopeful had said in the past in deciding if they were eligible candidates.

On Wednesday Au received confirmation of his candidacy in the Hong Kong Island constituency.

He responded with a statement that criticised the government for creating “invisible pressure [among nominees] so as to spread fear and bring self-censorship.”

He said he would do his best to “strengthen the power of the legislature for democracy and the rule of law”.

Earlier, the same reasons cited for Chow’s rejection had raised concerns about Au’s eligibility. He had previously contributed an article to a project by a group of liberal academics and pro-democracy district councillors titled “Discourse on Reforming Hong Kong”.

In it Au urged all the city’s pan-democratic groups to join hands to defend Hong Kong as it “goes through a long period of darkness”.

The project and a book it spawned were viewed by the city’s pro-Beijing camp and a mainland Chinese scholar as displaying pro-independence tendencies.

Political storm in Hong Kong as activist Agnes Chow banned from by-election over party’s call for city’s ‘self-determination’

However, Au said he never mentioned independence in the article.

Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association who also sits on a council of advisers to Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, said he could not see how Au could be disqualified as his case was different from Chow’s.

A member of the Democratic Party since 2009, Au, 30, quit the group last year “to pursue his own political beliefs”. He had been seen as a promising young upstart for Hong Kong’s largest opposition party and since 2011 had served as a southern district councillor.

On Wednesday morning, before his candidacy had been approved, Au took part in the first televised debate between candidates for the Hong Kong Island seat. While he acknowledged his candidacy had yet to be confirmed, he pledged to fight to protect procedural justice if elected.

“Hong Kong’s success has rested on the excellent rule of law and a functional legal system,” he said in his opening statement.

He lamented that illegal additions to the home of justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah had been “tolerated”, while young people were meanwhile “disqualified from elections without any say”.

“Let us fight together to safeguard procedural justice,” he said.

What Agnes Chow’s election ban means for Joshua Wong and youth politics in Hong Kong

Au will face off against fellow southern district councillor Judy Chan Ka-pui from the pro-establishment New People’s Party, as well as company director Edward Yum Liang-hsien, an independent candidate, information technology professional Ng Dick-hay and retired dental surgeon Johnny Ma Kam-chuen.

The March 11 by-election is being held to fill four of six seats in the Legislative Council left vacant by pro-democracy lawmakers removed for improper oaths of office. Two of those ousted legislators are appealing against the court decision to remove them.

Edward Yiu Chung-yim, one of the six, was given a last-minute green light on Monday to join the by-election for the Kowloon West constituency.

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Country has "sadly" not seen enough of "interesting" person Rahul Gandhi: Shashi Tharoor

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NEW DELHI: Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on Wednesday said party president Rahul Gandhi is an “interesting” person with a tremendous intellectual curiosity, but the country “sadly” has not seen enough of him.

He was replying to questions from students of the Delhi University‘s Hindu College at the ‘Mushaira Literature Festival’ after delivering a lecture in a jam-packed auditorium.

Asked about his opinion about the new party chief, Tharoor said, “Gandhi has grown up with ideas, perspectives, anxieties, and a degree of knowledge and vocabulary base that many of the youths will find congenial.”

Gandhi has “thought very deeply about religion and matters of faith. He is a Shiv bhakt and seriously practices Buddhist Vipassana and can talk about differences between various schools of it and Hindu philosophy”, he said.

Citing an anecdote, Tharoor said when all the political chatter was happening at the time of his elevation as the party’s vice president in Jaipur in January 2013, “Gandhi was seen explaining a new book released by inventor of ‘black swan theory’ Nassim Nicholas Taleb”.

Tharoor said Gandhi “is an extremely interesting guy with a tremendous intellectual curiosity and is extraordinarily well-read. I say this because for a couple of years between my two ministerships, I sat directly behind him in Parliament.

“Everyday we would chat and invariably the subjects he raised were about the books he was reading. That is the kind of the person he is and the rest of the country sadly has not seen it enough,” he added.

Tharoor, a Lok Sabha member, said India was facing a choice between two different styles of leadership.

“On the one hand we have a one-man-show. We have a hero on a white stallion cantering down to the appraisal saying he has all the answers to all the questions.

“On the other hand, you got a guy who says I don’t know all the answers but I will come to you and listen and bring a group of experienced people to work together,” he said.

Tharoor also hit out at the right-wing in the country and said traditionally the idea of the Right and Left emerged due to economic reasons, but today the right-wing was about “cultural nationalism”.

Cultural nationalism, he said, was about people saying “we are more anchored in our religion and authentic national identity and, therefore, we are the real people of the country”.

He said, “Because of such conviction, they make a dangerous mistake of identifying their party with the government and in turn with the nation. Therefore, those opposing will become anti-national.”

The event was organised by the university’s student newspaper DU Beat and students’ representative body Hindu College Parliament.

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