Hong Kong localism and independence

Pro-democracy political party Demosisto to shift focus away from seeking Hong Kong Legislative Council seats as it supports social movements

Group co-founded by Occupy movement leader Joshua Wong and disqualified lawmaker Nathan Law cites deprivation of its members’ ‘political rights’

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 8:52pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 26 May, 2018, 11:37pm

Hong Kong’s youngest political party co-founded by student activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung has declared it will shift its focus from contesting elections to backing social movements, claiming officials have blocked its path to the city’s councils.

The “declaration of transition” was issued on Friday at the party’s second anniversary dinner, attended by Wong, a leader of the pro-democracy Occupy movement of 2014, and Nathan Law Kwun-chung, a disqualified lawmaker who co-founded and recently led the organisation.

“We considered Demosito a political party when we founded it, with participation in electoral politics an important direction,” the statement read. “After our members were being repeatedly deprived of their political rights, the road to election has clearly been suspended.”

Law was elected to the Legislative Council two years ago, but was disqualified last year by the court over his improper oath-taking in October 2016. Demosisto put forward a candidate, its standing committee member Agnes Chow Ting, to try to retake Law’s seat in a special by-election. However, officials banned Chow from running on the grounds that Demosisto’s call for self-determination was “unconstitutional”.

Law stepped down last week from his post as party chairman, while vice-chairwoman Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai quit the party – a move seen as a tactic to avoid the risk of being banned from standing in the district council elections next year.

The new chairman, Ivan Lam Long-yin, said on Tuesday the party would not commit resources to waging election campaigns.

We will adjust our focus towards civil society and devote our energy to policy advocacy
Demosisto statement

Conceding a difficult road ahead while claiming suppression by the government, Demosisto said it would continue to stand in the frontline of the city’s democracy movements.

“In the future, we will adjust our focus towards civil society and devote our energy to policy advocacy,” the party said in its statement. “We will strive to connect with more Hongkongers in the coming battles and democracy movements.” It added that party members needed to prepare for what it called a key point of contention: a national security law.

Under Article 23 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, the city must enact legislation making any act of treason, secession, sedition or subversion against the central government a criminal offence.

Local officials were forced to shelve a bill aimed at doing just that in 2003, after half a million people took part in a march opposing the plan. Beijing has long signalled its impatience with the legislative stalemate.

Despite the government stating Demosisto’s doctrine of “democratic self-determination” inconsistent with the Basic Law, the party ended its statement by pledging to push forward its vision of the concept.

Chinese University political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung said it was very rare for a political party to take a “U-turn” and become a community organisation. He believed the decision arose after the party’s leaders recognised political reality.

In the face of government-imposed election bans, Demosisto had only two paths to sustain, Choy said: editing the party charter to remove its calls for self-determination, or cooperating with non-party members in elections.

After Chow was banned in January this year from running in the by-election, Demosisto supported another candidate, Au Nok-hin, a former Democratic Party member, who eventually won the race. Au subsequently hired a few Demosisto members as his assistants, including Yuen.

But it remained to be seen whether the public would accept the party’s attempt at reinvention, Choy said.

Demosisto candidate Agnes Chow launches legal bid to get election ban overturned

“Without a platform and resources from Legco, it may face resource problems in the long run.”

Lam, Demosisto’s new chairman, said the group had stable financial resources at the moment, and would be watchful of crowdfunding opportunities after the city’s annual July 1 march, when local pro-democracy groups traditionally raise money.

Demosisto now has about 30 members, Lam noted, and, apart from Yuen, none had quit the party in recent days.