The Hong Kong government has banned high-profile pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong from running for office in upcoming local elections. The government’s official line on its rationale for disallowing the 23-year-old, who was at the heart of the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests that preceded the current mass demonstrations, is that his advocacy for self-determination for the semiautonomous city, including the possibility of independence from mainland China, is incompatible with Hong Kong law. The New York Times described the move as “a blow to the protest movement’s efforts to convert deep anger toward the authorities into electoral gains,” which shows the underlying incongruity of the situation in Hong Kong, where, without a democratic outlet, there is simply nowhere for the popular anger to go, nowhere to direct it and no way to express it other than mass demonstrations.
“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 Hong Kong, the government said in a statement. Wong disagreed with the government’s characterization of his position. “My position is that any decision on Hong Kong’s future should be carried out within the constitutional framework of ‘one country, two systems,’ ” Wong wrote in a Facebook post. “Supporting democratic self-determination does not mean supporting Hong Kong’s independence from the central government of the People’s Republic of China.”
“Beijing has deprived me of my right to institutional participation permanently, but my commitment to the democracy movement will never be eroded,” Wong said in a news conference in response to the decision not to let him run. “This disqualification is because my name is Joshua Wong. Unless I change my name, they will continue disqualifying me.” A government spokesman said of Wong’s exclusion, “There is no question of any political censorship, restriction of the freedom of speech or deprivation of the right to stand for elections as alleged by some members of the community.”
The Nov. 24 district council elections, normally focused on the minutiae of local governance, have taken on increased importance following the monthslong protests that have roiled Hong Kong. “Whichever side wins the most seats will control 117 votes in the 1,200-member election committee that chooses the next chief executive, Hong Kong’s top government position,” the New York Times reports. “The pro-democracy camp’s fears of even wider prohibitions on their candidates seeking office have not been realized, as Mr. Wong will most likely be the only candidate barred from the district council race.”
Current Chief Executive Carrie Lam is distrusted by the pro-democracy activists; her push to pass a bill that would allow for the extradition of Hong Kong citizens for trial in mainland China sparked the protests over the summer, which have led to new grievances and demands from demonstrators.