Will shift from Hong Kong politics to social activism give Occupy poster boy Joshua Wong’s Demosisto Party a new sense of purpose?
The party’s path has seemed uncertain and new leader Ivan Lam promises to steer it in a new direction, first by focusing on the brewing ‘battle’ on national security legislation
Once the most promising political party for young Hongkongers, Demosisto is going back to its roots in social activism following a shutdown in its election paths and a change in leadership.
The group that was co-founded by pro-democracy Occupy movement icon Joshua Wong Chi-fung quickly rose to prominence by winning a seat in the Legislative Council five months after its formation, but stumbled into uncertainty after its sole representative in the council was disqualified last year.
The new leader of the party, Ivan Lam Long-yin, admitted he had inherited a tough task from his predecessors.
“I am not like them, who can be influential in what they have to say,” Lam said, referring to former chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung and Joshua Wong, two of Demosisto’s most well-known faces and poster boys of the 2014 Occupy movement.
That said, the 23-year-old chairman promised to keep the ship afloat and steer it in a new direction.
“Fame is not the most important factor,” he said. “My responsibility is in motivating the team.”
On Law’s sudden announcement on May 16 to step down from the post he had held since the group’s formation in April 2016, Lam said the disqualified lawmaker could have been considering taking a break from the limelight while he was in jail.
Law was sentenced to eight months in prison last August, but was acquitted on appeal in February. It was only after the Legco by-election in March, however, that the former chairman had told his comrades of the decision, Lam said.
The change of leadership came shortly before the group announced last month that it would no longer consider itself a political party, stating it would not put resources into election campaigns in the near future.
“I think everyone knows what the reality is like,” Lam said.
Law, who was the group’s only representative in Legco, was disqualified last year for taking his oath in an improper manner.
Demosisto standing committee member Agnes Chow Ting was also barred from entering the Legco by-election in March, as a returning officer ruled the group’s call for Hong Kong’s self-determination had contravened the Basic Law, the city’s mini-constitution.
Asked if the group had considered amending its manifesto, Lam admitted the idea had been raised, but members decided “it wasn’t the way out”.
“Many supporters of the pro-democracy camp are concerned with the integrity of former student leaders, whether they can hold their ground,” Lam said.
If the group had changed its manifesto for a ticket to future elections, Lam said it would have disappointed supporters.
Instead of taking part in polls, Lam said Demosisto would focus on raising awareness of societal issues, much like its spiritual predecessor, Scholarism, did.
Lam, alongside Wong and Chow, had been a core member of Scholarism, a now-defunct student group best known for leading a campaign that forced the government to halt its national education curriculum.
“It is like going back to [the times of] Scholarism, which focuses on one single issue. For now, it will be Article 23,” Lam said, referring to the looming national security legislation.
He said the group would focus all of its energy in the upcoming “battle”, including related issues, such as the national anthem law.
Article 23 of the Basic Law requires the city to enact laws making acts such as treason and subversion a crime. The government was forced to shelve a bill aimed at doing just that in 2003 after a massive backlash, but Beijing has signalled its impatience with the stalemate in recent years.
On Demosisto’s involvement in future protests, Lam said members would have to be more careful. Lam and 12 other activists were given jail sentences of eight to 13 months for unlawful assembly last August.
He was released on bail after being jailed for three months.
“I will be more careful and cautious,” Lam said.
April 2016: Demosisto was founded with a mission to achieve democratic self-determination in Hong Kong
Sept 2016: Chairman Nathan Law Kwun-chung was elected as a lawmaker with over 50,000 votes
July 2017: Law was disqualified by the court over his improper oath-taking at Legco’s inaugural meeting in October 2016
Jan 2018: Agnes Chow Ting was banned from running in the March by-election on the grounds of the party’s “unconstitutional” calls for self-determination
May 2018: Law stepped down as chairman and the post was succeeded by Ivan Lam Long-yin. The party declared it would shift its focus from contesting elections to initiating social movements.