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The student union at the University of Hong Kong in Pok Fu Lam. Photo: Handout

No candidates for HKU student union leadership as fear of political repercussions cited

The nomination deadline was extended once but still no one applied

For the first time since 2010, the University of Hong Kong’s student union could be left without an executive committee, with some believing a fear of political repercussions has chilled participation.

Student magazine Undergrad announced on its website on Saturday that no nominations were received for the union’s 14 executive positions, including that of president, when the deadline passed at noon Friday.

Current HKU student union president Ed Wong will keep serving in the role in an acting capacity until April. Photo: Nora Tam

The nomination deadline was extended once, from December 27, after no one applied for the posts.

Current president Ed Wong Ching-tak has said he will continue to serve in the role in an acting capacity until April, when the body will hold another election to try to form an executive committee team.

When you’re a student union leader, it’s expected that you’ll take a critical political stance
Mak Tung-wing, former HKU student union president

But he said he would need to step down by April even if no one submitted a nomination in order to focus on his studies, which he had taken a year off from.

If no executive committee was formed by April, the union’s council would appoint members to various posts, he said. Two to three students had expressed a willingness to help out.

Wong believed the general lack of interest could stem from students not feeling prepared to face political consequences, with the union taking part in many political activities and “many discouraged by the oppression they faced”.

Union executives usually step down by February each year as new members are elected during the union’s annual election.

Mak Tung-wing, union president in 1987, believed the recent court convictions of student leaders could be deterring people from running for the executive committee.

“When you’re a student union leader, it’s expected that you’ll take a critical political stance,” he said.

Student leaders in Hong Kong have increasingly been put in the spotlight since the pro-democracy Occupy movement of 2016. Photo: AP
With the unions increasingly involved in local political movements, including the 79-day pro-democracy Occupy protests of 2014 and Hong Kong independence advocacy in 2016 and 2017, student leaders have been thrust into the spotlight and come under criticism.
Last August, high-profile activists Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Alex Chow Yong-kang – a former external vice-president of HKU’s student union – were jailed for between six and eight months for their actions in the Occupy movement.
Former HKU student union president Billy Fung was handed a community service sentence of 240 hours for his role in besieging a university council meeting in 2016. Photo: Sam Tsang

After a few months in custody, the three were freed, pending appeals to the city’s top court over their jail terms.

In September, former HKU student union president Billy Fung Jing-en was handed a community service sentence of 240 hours for leading hundreds of students in besieging a university governing council meeting in 2016. They were pressing for an immediate review of the institution’s governance structure, which they believed was vulnerable to political interference.

Outgoing HKU head says Beijing officials meet him ‘all the time’ and wishes higher education ‘wasn’t so politicised’

Mak recalled that nobody ran for executive posts at the HKU body in 1988 when his team was slated to step down. He said he also had to serve as acting president beyond his term until a committee appointed four members to take up executive posts.

According to Undergrad, a similar situation transpired in 2010 when the only cabinet running for the leadership comprised eight members and they failed to obtain a majority vote of confidence. That resulted in the union council appointing students to several posts.