Democracy activist Joshua Wong slams ‘politically driven decision’ to bar him from running in Hong Kong district council election

Alvin Lum

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung has been banned from running in the coming district council elections because he has not changed his stance on independence, the Hong Kong government says, a move the former student leader denounced as a directive from Beijing.

Wong was the only candidate disqualified from the polls, to be held on November 24, on the basis of his political stance.

Even though the government said there was no political censorship involved in the decision, commentators said the ruling showed Beijing’s determination to isolate Wong from other activists in the camp.

The government said in a press release on Tuesday that decisions on the nominations of all candidates had been made.

Without naming Wong, it said: “The candidate cannot possibly comply with the requirements of the relevant electoral laws, since advocating or promoting ‘self-determination’ is contrary to the content of the declaration that the law requires a candidate to make to uphold the Basic Law and pledge allegiance to the HKSAR.”

The election officer said that Wong had tried to “mislead” the public in stating he had changed his stance, pointing to his statement that he still supported the idea of a non-binding referendum on self-determination, with independence as one option.

The officer further said the option of independence in such a referendum was “incompatible with the Basic Law and the status of Hong Kong as a special administrative region of the People’s Republic of China”.

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Wong had said later these were not vital options but possible views the public might want to vote for. But the officer rejected this explanation.

Wong said the returning officer was carrying out political vetting.

“The ban is clearly politically driven,” he said. “The so-called reason is judging subjectively on my intention to uphold the Basic Law. But everyone knows the true reason is my identity – Joshua Wong is a crime in their mind.

“I have never actively advocated independence as an option, but she twisted and wrongly interpreted my remark.”

Eddie Chu will be allowed to run in the November polls. Photo: AFP
Eddie Chu will be allowed to run in the November polls. Photo: AFP

He said Beijing had clearly exerted great pressure on local officials, demonstrated by the original returning officer taking sick leave.

Wong believed his advocacy of the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act in the United States was probably the core reason for the ban in Beijing’s mind.

“But they have to pay the price in the international community … my disqualification will only trigger more people to take to the streets,” he said.

Wong also said he would consider challenging the decision after the elections.

Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip Tak-kuen said the returning officer was only exercising her power under the city’s laws and based on the relevant information.

Wong’s election rival, Judy Chan Ka-pui of the New People’s Party, said returning officers had a legal right to disqualify candidates. Chan also said she still faced a tough fight because to the overall political climate.

“Some are saying ‘not even one vote’ to the pro-establishment camp,” Chan said.

“This is irrelevant to whether there’s a disqualification.”

Two companies of riot police – each consisting of about 180 officers – were deployed to deal with any protests against the ban at the draw for candidates’ numbers on Tuesday, the Post learned.

Wong had applied to run in the South Horizons West constituency of Southern District Council.

The former student leader of the 2014 Occupy movement had been grilled on Demosisto’s founding mission to strive for Hong Kong’s “self-determination”. The party had also called for a referendum on the city’s future, including independence from China as an option.

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On Saturday, Wong received his third inquiry from a returning officer, in this case Laura Liang Aron, who replaced Dorothy Ma Chau Pui-fun, who had taken indefinite sick leave.

In response, Wong for the first time made clear that he and Demosisto “do not promote and support independence as an option of self-determination”.

He also clarified his position in earlier replies, saying any referendum the group put forward would be non-binding.

On Tuesday morning, Aron gave a six-page ruling on Wong’s candidacy.

She noted that Wong in his reply had referred to a recent statement by President Xi Jinping, calling it a “stern threat” against separatism. She said that suggested the party and candidate were pressed into dropping advocacy of the option of independence as “a compromise, instead of a genuine intention”.

Aron said Wong was trying to “mislead readers that both Demosisto and he have abandoned the notion when neither have in fact done so”.

Quoting Wong’s reply that he subscribed to the notion that “under non-binding ways of gauging public opinion, the independence of Hong Kong can be an option for self-determination”, Aron further suggested that his concept of self-determination “is clearly incompatible with the Basic Law”.

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah and her department probably advised the returning officer in the case, a legal source said.

A source familiar with the processing of nominations for district council elections said Wong’s replies to the returning officers’ queries showed he was not really keen on running in the polls, as he failed to demonstrate any departure from Demosisto’s stance on self-determination.

The district council elections will be held on November 24. Photo: Felix Wong
The district council elections will be held on November 24. Photo: Felix Wong

“Banning candidates advocating self-determination and Hong Kong independence from contesting elections is the bottom line the government adheres to,” the source said.

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick, a pro-democracy lawmaker previously barred from running in a village representative election due to advocacy of self-determination, was given the green light last week to run in the district council elections.

The government has allowed several candidates previously linked to self-determination advocacy to run.

Just before deadline last week, Kelvin Lam Ho-por also enrolled and was widely believed to be Wong’s substitute in case the activist was barred from running.

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