Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung and at least 12 other district council election hopefuls have arranged backup candidates to contest in the polls next month, as electoral officials keep grilling them on their political allegiance to mainland China with nomination closing on Thursday.
The latest development from Wong, secretary general of Demosisto, came as returning officer Dorothy Ma Chow Pui-fun sent the activist a second letter in less than a week, demanding that he explain his stance on Hong Kong independence, even if that was floated as just an option.
Wong, running in the South Horizons West constituency of Southern District Council, said he would explore "alternative plans" to mitigate the risk of disqualification, but maintained that the situation was still fluid.
"We will not allow (rival) Judy Chan Ka-pui to get elected without any competition," Wong said, ahead of Thursday's 5pm deadline to file nominations for running in the local polls on November 24.
"The backup plan really depends on whether the returning officer makes a third round of inquiry," he said.
Chan, of the New People's Party, is seeking re-election.
Sources said pro-democracy banker Kelvin Lam Ho-por could run as Wong's substitute, should Wong be barred from running, but neither Wong nor Lam confirmed this.
As of Thursday, at least 12 pro-democracy camp candidates have also made alternative arrangements fearing they might be barred from running. They include former student leader Lester Shum and pro-democracy lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick.
Wong earlier made clear he did not support the idea of Hong Kong's independence from China. Citing a landmark court ruling that overturned an election ban on fellow Demosisto member Agnes Chow Ting, Wong said his party was only supporting a non-binding referendum under Hong Kong's existing constitutional framework.
But Ma accused Wong of contradicting Demosisto's 2016 stance, which advocated putting complete independence or autonomy among the options.
"As the secretary general of Demosisto, could you directly answer whether 'Hong Kong's independence' is one of the options in 'self-determination'?" Ma wrote to Wong on Wednesday evening.
She also cited Wong's remarks at a public rally on Monday that "Hong Kong should not only be viewed as Hong Kong of China, or Hong Kong ruled by China".
The rally was held to urge the US Congress to pass the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which was eventually passed on Wednesday.
"How does it not violate your declaration … in upholding the Basic Law?" Ma asked.
But Wong said Ma had wrongly interpreted his remarks and Demosisto's stance.
"I reiterate that I was only saying Hong Kong is an international city, and that does not contradict the Basic Law," Wong wrote.
He also argued district councillors should be counted as public officers bound by the requirement of allegiance under the Basic Law.
"Therefore, I believe your inquiry … is beyond your legal remit," Wong said.
Five members of lawmaker Chu's team running in Yuen Long are also planning to send in backup candidates, after an electoral official asked them to confirm their affiliation with Chu.
Shum, a member of Chu's team, said another democrat had enrolled in the same constituency in Tsuen Wan, since his nomination was still not confirmed.
The returning officer, Enoch Yuen Ka-lok, had in December last year disqualified Chu from running in a rural representative election held in January, citing his stance of supporting "self-determination".
In a recent letter to the five hopefuls, Yuen also asked them to clarify the slogan "democratic self-determination".
Chu's assistant Chan Shu-fai accused Yuen of political vetting.
"We are only saying that everyone in the community should self-determine their own business as well as their future," Chan said.
In Hong Kong, there are 18 district councils, each consisting of between 13 and more than 40 elected members.
From next year, the total number of elected seats will be increased from 431 to 452, while about 4 million registered voters will pick their representatives to fill those seats on November 24.
A total of 1,042 nominations have been received since the nomination process started on October 4.
The district councils are advisory bodies, with their members advising the government on issues such as community facilities management.
The district councillors are also eligible to run for one of five "super seats" in the legislature's functional constituencies. There are also 117 seats for district councillors in the 1,200-member Election Committee, which elects the city's leader every five years.
Additional reporting by Sum Lok-kei
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