Hong Kong’s Scholarism suspends its work ahead of the formation of a new ‘less politicised’ student group

Some of the Scholarism leaders including Joshua Wong will form a political party to contest the Legislative Council elections in September

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 March, 2016, 10:27pm
UPDATED : Monday, 21 March, 2016, 8:38am

Student activist group Scholarism, which played a leading role in the 2014 Occupy protests, suspended work yesterday before completely disbanding to form a new, “less politicised” group.

The end was announced a month before the formation of the new political party to be led by the group’s convenor, Joshua Wong Chi-fung, alongside a few core members.

From Occupy to ballot box: new Scholarism party could end up clashing with old guard democrats in Legco elections

The party is preparing to field at least two candidates in the Legislative Council elections in September, setting the stage for younger players to enter an arena dominated by ageing veterans.

It is also planning a referendum in 10 years’ time for Hongkongers to decide their own future beyond 2047, the expiry date for Beijing’s 50-year promise to run the city under the “one country, two systems” formula.

Wong said the group he formed five years ago was now too heavily politicised in the wake of the 79-day pro-democracy sit-ins in 2014, making it difficult for them to reach out to schools.

“I managed to conduct sharing in some 30 schools after I finished the public exams, but after the umbrella movement I have been [invited] by only one or two schools, with one being besieged by Beijing-friendly protesters and the other cancelling the sharing session after the incident,” Wong said on Sunday. “That’s my first-hand experience.”

Describing the break-up of Scholarism as a tough decision, Wong said it would help the group to reposition itself, with a new student body – to be formed in six months – focusing on student issues and civic education, while the party concentrated on elections and greater democracy.

Founded by Wong when he was a secondary school student, Scholarism made a name in leading a citywide campaign that forced the government to shelve a national education curriculum in 2012.

It then shifted its focus from education policy to the city’s democratic development, gaining international exposure during the Occupy protests.

What Scholarism does with the HK$1.45 million in donations it still possesses will be closely watched. The plan is to set aside HK$700,000 to form the new student group, while the remaining HK$750,000 will be pumped into Scholarism’s fund for legal assistance – managed by lawyers and entrusted to six core group members – to offer financial support to group members who were arrested in previous protests. No money will be passed on to the new party.

Is Scholarism over? Occupy group silent on future after report it will disband

Any money in the legal assistance fund left over after seven years will be donated to human rights groups.

Prince Wong Ji-yuet, the Scholarism spokeswoman who will lead the new student body, said the financial arrangements would not go against the donors’ wishes as the new body would uphold the principles and philosophy advocated by the original group.

She added the new student group would not be deliberately “depoliticised”, but would focus on promoting civic education.

Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said Scholarism had successfully encouraged more secondary school students to care about politics, but added the new student body might face a tough road ahead.

“If Wong and others intend to [run in elections], it’s reasonable for them to find a way out as they can’t cling to Scholarism forever,” he said. “But the new student body would need some time to be recognised as a secondary student body and the schools might not necessarily welcome it if they are to promote [the marking of] the June 4 [1989] massacre and the July 1 march.”

Separately, the Federation of Students, a university activist group which also led the Occupy movement alongside Scholarism, failed to elect a new leader this month after the three candidates quit the exercise to protest against a poll mechanism allowing the former cabinet to pick its successors.