Can Hong Kong’s youth democracy movement survive the rocky path ahead?
Even if the candidate Joshua Wong’s Demosisto is backing wins Sunday’s by-election, it won’t make it easier for young, idealistic activists to carve out a legitimate political space for themselves
For the past six weeks, Occupy student leader Joshua Wong Chi-fung has devoted himself to publicising Sunday’s by-election, manning street booths on Hong Kong Island almost round-the-clock and even waving at passengers on double-decker buses at night to get their attention.
Wong, 21, is not on the ticket but he and his team have wholeheartedly canvassed for Au Nok-hin to win and enter the Legislative Council.
Au, a 30-year-old Southern district councillor, was the pro-democracy camp’s backup candidate after 21-year-old Agnes Chow Ting, Wong’s Demosisto party colleague, was banned from joining the contest.
Election authorities in January declared Chow ineligible to run on the grounds that Demosisto had called for “self-determination” for the city. It sparked a political storm but even as Demosisto protested the decision, it hunkered down and got to work.
The party has been almost fully in charge of Au’s campaign and all media liaison work. Au, who used to be a member of the Democratic Party but quit it last year, has positioned himself as a true representative of the people, pledging to open more district offices to serve the community should he become a lawmaker.
But even if Au wins, political observers expect Demosisto to be faced with a rocky path ahead as the tide of excitement recedes on Monday.
Their struggle exemplifies the wider challenge faced by Occupy activists and young Hongkongers seeking a legitimate space in the political landscape.
The seat Au is aiming for once belonged to the chairman of Demosisto Nathan Law Kwun-chung, who won the 2016 Legislative Council election at the age of 23.
Demosisto political mission changes weren’t aimed at helping Agnes Chow get elected, Joshua Wong says
He was subsequently disqualified along with other five pro-democracy lawmakers over improper oath-taking, which triggered the by-election.
With the ban imposed on Chow, it seems that “members of Demosisto are expected to be barred by the government from running in elections in the foreseeable future,” Chinese University political scientist Dr Ma Ngok said.
“That is the most evil part of the ban … and the problem would not be resolved by the victory of Au.”
Ma said it was neither likely for Au to join Demosisto nor could he fully represent the party in the legislature.
“Even if Au won, he could only offer a short-term lift by using the resources available to him to recruit a few party members. The sustainability of the party cannot fully rely on him,” he said.
Polytechnic University political scholar Dr Chung Kim-wah said there is an age gap between Au and the core members of Demosisto, mostly in their early 20s, and argued the district councillor might not fully represent the voice of young people.
“Demosisto would have to figure its way out no matter whether Au wins or loses,” he added.
He also noted many university students were largely indifferent towards the by-election this time, as there are no young candidates – such as Law and Edward Leung Tin-kei, the poster boy of the city’s pro-independence movement – in the running.
Indeed, some observers attributed the relatively low turnout in New Territories East – the breeding ground of localists – to the lack of young candidates there. At 9.30pm, an hour before polling stations were set to close, only 38.8 per cent of all eligible voters had cast their ballots.
Joshua Wong said his party had prepared for “all possible outcomes” and pledged to forge closer cooperation with their allies in the legislature if Au won.
Asked about his party’s future, he said he and his colleagues had spent weeks debating the issue.
“Our conclusion is that, from last July till now, Demosisto has had no representative in the Legco, but Demosisto is still here,” he told the Post.
“Actions speak louder than words. What sustains us is the support from Hongkongers.”