The first oath-taking ceremony for district councillors to swear allegiance to Hong Kong will be held on Friday, with participants required to don “business attire” and shun political slogans.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Tuesday said 260 out of 452 members elected to the municipal-level bodies had resigned and eight had either left Hong Kong or were in detention as of last weekend.
Many of those who quit were driven by fear they would have to pay back their salaries if disqualified.
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Announcing the move on Tuesday, Lam said the first batch of councillors required to comply with Beijing’s rule to enforce “patriots governing Hong Kong” would be those from districts on Hong Kong Island.
“Letters will go out today to district councillors to invite them to take the oath,” she said, adding these would contain a dress code to remind them how to take the oath “solemnly and sincerely”.
“If they decline to come, it means they will lose their eligibility,” she added.
But those who show up will not immediately discover if they have been successful either, Lam warned.
“Those who have acted with suspicion, and may not be able to fulfil the oath, will get a chance to explain themselves,” she said.
The oath-taking was previously limited to mostly senior officials, judges, and lawmakers, but was expanded to civil servants and district councillors earlier this year, and came after the opposition bloc won 392 of 452 seats at the 2019 polls, sweeping all 18 municipal-level bodies.
The proposal was passed in May in the legislature, which is dominated by pro-establishment lawmakers.
Since then, the government has been expected to enforce the oath-taking requirement on district councillors, even though an announcement was only made on Tuesday.
A copy of the letter obtained by the Post read: “Please note that the oath-taker should be dressed in business attire in a tidy and decent manner.
“Those who are dressed in inappropriate clothing or in ways which can be viewed by oath observers as not being truthful and solemn can be barred,” it said.
Banned clothing items included those displaying political slogans or commercial advertisements, such as sports jerseys. They should also not contain holes or splits, and cannot be collarless, such as T-shirts.
According to the rules, participants cannot bring objects that may cause inconvenience or danger, such as umbrellas, gas masks and helmets – common gear used by anti-government protesters in 2019.
Opposition groups such as the Democratic Party and Hong Kong Association for Democracy and People’s Livelihood have said they would leave it to their district councillor members to decide on whether to take the oath.
Yuen Long district councillor Tommy Cheung Sau-yin, a former activist, said in a Facebook post on Tuesday that he would proceed with the ceremony, calling it a “most natural option” to “fulfil my public duty”.
Lam said she had delegated her power to observe the vow to Secretary for Home Affairs Caspar Tsui Ying-wai.
Tsui did not reveal how much of their salary disqualified councillors would be expected to repay, only saying his department would stop dispensing wages and allowances on the day of disqualification for any individual.
He also said district councillors might not be reimbursed for events not related to their roles.
“There is nothing to be afraid of when someone knocks on your door in the middle of the night, as long as you have not done anything wrong,” Tsui said, quoting a Chinese idiom.