Hong Kong’s leader has said elected district councillors will still need to take an oath of allegiance despite the resignation of dozens who are refusing to do so.
Some 170 district councillors, most of them supporters of the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s beleaguered pro-democracy movement, have resigned in the past week rather than make the pledge following media reports that they may have to repay their wages if they are later disqualified from office.
The requirement that the city’s more than 400 district councillors take the oath was introduced after a Bill was passed in May.
Previously, only members of parliament and government officials were required to take the oath and pledge allegiance to Hong Kong and the government.
The requirement is seen as part of a broader crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in the former British colony, which has seen an erosion of the freedoms it was promised it could maintain after being handed to Chinese control in 1997.
A national security law imposed by Beijing last year has led to the arrest of many of the city’s prominent pro-democracy figures, including Joshua Wong and media tycoon Jimmy Lai. A majority of such activists are currently behind bars or have fled abroad.
Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam said at a regular news conference on Tuesday that she is sure that, given the security law, each district councillor will gauge their past behaviour to check if they have “crossed a line”.
“Individual incumbent district councillors of their own accord took some actions after seeing that there are certain legal requirements; that is, legal liabilities will have to be borne if they have violated certain rules and regulations,” she said. “They decided to resign. This is out of our control.”
Ms Lam said that, despite the exodus of district councillors, authorities will press ahead with the oath-taking because they “have to implement the law”.
Hong Kong’s district councillors largely take care of municipal matters such as organising community building activities and ensuring that public facilities are in order.
Their election has taken on greater importance, however, since Hong Kong was rocked by pro-democracy protests for much of 2019.
In 2019 elections, many pro-democracy candidates unseated incumbent councillors seen as loyal to Beijing.
Among the councillors to resign over the oath is Democratic Party chairman Lo Kin-hei, who has been a district councillor since 2012.