What you need to know
'Plan A' has failed. What now for Hong Kong's pro-democracy advocates?
Agnes Chow (周庭) of Demosisto has been barred from running in a by-election for Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo) on the basis that her party advocates “self-determination” for Hong Kong.
Chow was running to fill the seat left vacant by Nathan Law (羅冠聰), also a member of Demosisto, after he was disqualified from LegCo over an oath-taking row. This occurred despite Law having served several months in office at that point.
Law was disqualified on the basis that he took the oath of office as an occasion to protest against Beijing, a precedent established during previous oath-taking ceremonies. The controversy was taken as a pretext for Beijing to disqualify Law, along with other dissident legislators.
News of Chow’s disqualification came from a press release stating that candidates who support self-determination for Hong Kong would not be allowed to run in upcoming LegCo elections, though it did not refer to Chow by name.
Law, alongside veteran legislator “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄) and Lau Siu-lai (劉小麗), was disqualified after serving in office for several months, following Baggio Leung (梁頌恆) and Yau Wai Ching (游蕙禎) of Youngspiration being disqualified almost immediately after their oath-taking ceremony. These built on a precedent of localist Edward Leung (梁天琦) of Hong Kong Indigenous being blocked from running in elections ahead of time. It is not surprising that Chow has been disqualified, too.
However, Demosisto differs from localist groups such as Hong Kong Indigenous or Youngspiration because it still only advocates self-determination for Hong Kong rather than calling for outright independence.
Au Nok-hin (區諾軒), one of the organizers of the annual pro-democracy march, is expected to replace Chow as the pro-democratic camp's candidate. It remains to be seen whether he will also be blocked. In the meantime, Demosisto intends to protest the issue, calling on supporters to defend Chow and protect “plan A.” Protests Jan. 28 against the disqualification drew several thousand.
Though Demosisto stated that it has a “plan B” in case Chow is prevented from running, it has not yet shown its hand. If this involves simply replacing candidates that have been blocked or disqualified, the party may be criticized for a lack of political imagination.
As a result of Beijing viewing all of these different political positions in the same light and preventing them running for office, it is possible that political differences between localist groups calling for Hong Kong independence and more mainstream groups that still emphasize some form of “self-determination” will narrow. Advocates of self-determination such as Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) and Nathan Law and advocates of independence such as Edward Leung have all been arrested for prior protest actions in the past month, with no distinction in their treatment by authorities.
The two camps may yet diverge into those who advocate more radical forms of political action and those who support a moderate approach. Yet after its candidates were disqualified and with the growing use of political measures to quell critics of China in Hong Kong, the fortunes of the localist camp seem to be on the decline, perhaps adding weight to an oft-leveled accusation that they are all talk but lack effective action.
In this way, the future of protest against Chinese political encroachment in Hong Kong is open to doubt. Certainly, electoral avenues appear blocked, but direct street protests will result in long-term arrest. New alternatives have yet to present themselves, but Hong Kong activists will need to figure out how to mobilize the masses if they are to have any hope of resisting Beijing. Hong Kong of course has form in this regard, but finding the touchpaper that ignited anger from ennui as in the 2014 Umbrella Movement will be a less than easy task.
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The News Lens has been authorized to repost this article. The original post was published on New Bloom here.
TNL Editor: TNL staff