Hong Kong officials can now summarily oust lawmakers. How do other places do it?

Cheryl Heng
·4-min read

A resolution from China’s top legislative body paving the way for the unseating of four opposition lawmakers on Wednesday – and the resulting mass resignation of the entire pan-democratic camp in protest – has further shaken up Hong Kong’s already-fraught political landscape.

Beijing’s decision gave local electoral authorities the power to remove sitting politicians without going through the city’s courts, leading to the immediate ousting of the four Legislative Council members for either calling for foreign sanctions on Hong Kong or vowing to block legislation – or, as was the case with two of the lawmakers, merely associating with others who had.

(Left to right) Lawmakers Dennis Kwok, Kenneth Leung, Kwok Ka-ki and Alvin Yeung were summarily ousted from the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Photo: Dickson Lee
(Left to right) Lawmakers Dennis Kwok, Kenneth Leung, Kwok Ka-ki and Alvin Yeung were summarily ousted from the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Photo: Dickson Lee

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While it would be relatively rare for a national government to issue a resolution that resulted in the disqualification of politicians on a local council, there have been instances of lawmakers in national legislatures being removed. Here are some examples:

The United States

In the US, the Constitution allows each house of Congress to expel a sitting member for misconduct with a two-thirds vote. A successful expulsion involves only the House or the Senate, without requiring any action from the other chamber, or from the government and the Supreme Court.

In Congress’ 231-year history, a total of 20 lawmakers have been expelled, five in the House of Representatives and 15 in the Senate. Most of those expulsions were over members’ support for the Confederacy during the Civil War.

The most recent expulsion, that of James Traficant in 2002, was over accusations of public corruption.

Representative James Traficant was expelled from the US House in 2002 for taking bribes and forcing aides to work on his farm. Photo: AP
Representative James Traficant was expelled from the US House in 2002 for taking bribes and forcing aides to work on his farm. Photo: AP

Traficant, a nine-term Democrat, was expelled from the House of Representatives by a vote of 420 to one after he was found to have made his staff work at his farm on congressional time and to have pocketed bribes in exchange for political favours.

He was ultimately convicted on 10 counts of bribery, racketeering and tax evasion, and served seven years in prison. Released in 2009, Traficant attempted a political comeback the following year, but suffered a resounding loss, and died in 2014 at the age of 73.

Britain

Members of the Parliament (MPs) in Britain may be disqualified from the House of Commons if they are convicted or found personally guilty by an election court of corruption or illegal practice.

For almost a century, the only MP to be stripped of his seat due to illegal practice was Phil Woolas in 2010.

A member of Britain’s House of Commons (pictured) can only be removed if found guilty by an election court. Photo: AFP
A member of Britain’s House of Commons (pictured) can only be removed if found guilty by an election court. Photo: AFP

Formerly the Labour immigration minister, Woolas was accused of lying about his opponent in the general election that year, eventually regaining his Oldham East and Saddleworth seat by a mere 103 votes. His Liberal Democrat opponent, Elwyn Watkins, claimed that Woolas misled voters and deliberately stirred up religious tensions with provocative leaflets.

A specially convened election court stripped Woolas of his seat after viewing confidential emails between members of Woolas’ campaign team, and a rerun of the election in Oldham East and Saddleworth was called. Woolas was also barred from the House of Commons for three years, and the Labour Party suspended his membership.

Singapore

Under Singapore’s constitution, any Member of Parliament may be disqualified upon being convicted of an offence punishable by imprisonment of more than a year or a fine of more than S$2,000 (HK$11,500).

Only two MPs have ever been stripped of their seats in the Lion City. One of them was Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam, of the Worker’s Party. Elected as the first opposition MP in 1981, he ended the People Action Party’s long-standing monopoly on parliament. While he retained his seat in the next general election, he was forced to vacate it in 1986 after being convicted by the High Court of making false declarations related to party funds. He was jailed and fined S$5,000, and was barred from parliament until 1991.

Workers Party chief Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (left) leaves court with his lawyer during a break in a 1998 libel suit. Photo: Reuters
Workers Party chief Joshua Benjamin Jeyaretnam (left) leaves court with his lawyer during a break in a 1998 libel suit. Photo: Reuters

Jeyaretnam’s post-conviction political career was plagued by crippling defamation suits, eventually leading to his bankruptcy in 2001. Upon emerging from bankruptcy six years later, he returned to politics with the newly established Reform Party in 2008, but died of heart failure the same year at the age of 82.

Australia

In Australia, the expulsion of sitting members of parliament is determined by a special jurisdiction of the High Court known as the Court of Disputed Returns. Expellable offences including a member going bankrupt, possessing dual citizenship or being convicted of a crime punishable by more than a year in prison.

The most noteworthy expulsions came during the citizenship saga of 2017, in which the High Court disqualified then-deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce and four other senators for holding dual citizenship in contravention of a constitutional ban.

Then-deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was booted from his seat in Australia’s parliament for holding New Zealand citizenship. Photo: EPA-EFE
Then-deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce was booted from his seat in Australia’s parliament for holding New Zealand citizenship. Photo: EPA-EFE

The members were given the boot despite not being aware of their dual national status when running for election the year before.

The ousted senators were replaced by members of their own parties, and a by-election was called for Joyce‘s position – to which he was ultimately re-elected months later after renouncing his New Zealand citizenship.

This article Hong Kong officials can now summarily oust lawmakers. How do other places do it? first appeared on South China Morning Post

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