Lau in passport battle

Stephen Vines
Tuesday 16 December 1997 00:02 GMT

Emily Lau, one of Hong Kong's most outspoken politicians, is being forced to give up her British passport so that she can contest next May's legislative council elections. She had been planning to challenge the legality of the ban on foreign passport holders standing for seats in the geographic constituencies, but said yesterday that time was running out for such a challenge.

Under Hong Kong's new election laws, foreign passport holders will be allowed to stand in certain so-called functional constituencies, where seats are filled by voters from occupational groups. Mrs Lau described this as "very arbitrary and very unfair".

Many middle-class people in Hong Kong hold foreign passports, including a high percentage of those who sat in the last elected legislature which was dissolved when China resumed sovereignty over Hong Kong in July. Under new rules, a maximum of 20 per cent of members will be allowed to hold foreign passports.

Mrs Lau, a former journalist, has lived in Britain where she worked for the BBC. When she returned to Hong Kong, she quickly established a reputation as one of the most daunting interrogators of government officials. She was one of the few reporters to have taken Margaret Thatcher, the former prime minister, by surprise after the signing of the 1984 agreement for Hong Kong's reversal to Chinese rule. At a memorable press conference, she asked Mrs Thatcher how she felt about delivering Hong Kong's people into the hands of Communist rule. The question received a blustery response.

Mrs Lau is a founder member of the Frontier Party. She received a record number of votes in the last elections for the legislature, and was one of the council's most popular and aggressive members.

Although the supporters of the new regime tend to label all its opponents as being "pro- British", they have found it hard to pin this label on Emily Lau who, despite her British citizenship, was a harsh critic of the outgoing regime.

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