Posts Tagged ‘Andy Chan’

Pro-Democracy Groups in Hong Kong Face Test in Elections

September 3, 2016

Results of Sunday’s poll could color relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing for years to come

Candidates' campaign posters for the Legislative Council election are displayed at a market in Hong Kong on Aug. 17.
Candidates’ campaign posters for the Legislative Council election are displayed at a market in Hong Kong on Aug. 17. PHOTO: BOBBY YIP/REUTERS


The wall Street Journal
Sept. 2, 2016 11:32 p.m. ET

HONG KONG—A fractured pro-democracy camp here faces its first public test Sunday since street protests seeking greater political autonomy gripped this city two years ago.

Hong Kong voters are heading to the polls to elect a fresh slate of lawmakers for the 70-member Legislative Council for the first time since the Occupy protests of late 2014. At the time, thousands of citizens of this former British colony—which has partial autonomy from the Communist Party-ruled mainland under a “one country, two systems” policy—blocked main thoroughfares for 79 days, angered by the unwillingness of Beijing and the Hong Kong government to let them nominate their own candidates for the territory’s top official in 2017.

Those protests ended without budging the government’s stance. Instead, they left widening divisions between those in Hong Kong who want to work with Chinese leaders to make the city’s government more democratic and a spate of new groups espousing everything from greater autonomy to independence from the mainland. The Demosisto Party, for instance, champions “political and economic autonomy from the oppression of the Communist Party of China and capitalist hegemony,” according to its website, and is fielding in the election a 23-year-old college student who was one of the leaders of the Occupy protests.



The results of Sunday’s poll, where representatives from some of those new parties are running for the first time, could color the relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing for years to come.

Wins by pro-independence candidates could show such ideas have traction in the territory, as well as heighten tensions with the mainland, which has labeled such groups dangerous secessionists. The government barred several candidates calling for Hong Kong’s complete independence from China from running in Sunday’s election.
The fragmentation of the pro-democracy groups means they could lose seats and ultimately the ability to veto legislation proposed by a more numerous group of pro-Beijing lawmakers.

“This is an important election,” said Dixon Sing, a political analyst who teaches at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology. “It remains uncertain if the city’s pro-democracy parties would be able to retain…veto power.”

Without that power, pro-Beijing legislators could enact legislation to prohibit acts of subversion against the mainland government or could take away the ability to filibuster, which democracy advocates have used to slow legislation they don’t like, political observers say.

Just over half of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council, or LegCo, is selected by popular vote, while the rest is chosen by constituencies that represent largely pro-Beijing and business interests. That has meant comfortable majorities for mainland-friendly politicians and policies. During the last election four years ago, pro-democracy candidates won 27 seats—not enough to sway legislation but just over the one-third number needed to veto bills.

Recently, the ballooning gap between the rich and the poor in Hong Kong, combined with signs that the mainland is trying to tighten its grip over the territory, have prompted dissatisfaction with the government and the political system.

A proposal to let Hong Kong citizens vote for the territory’s chief executive but limit candidates to a list vetted by a pro-China committee sparked the Occupy protests. Pro-democracy lawmakers blocked that change last year, leaving in place a system whereby a pro-Beijing committee selects the city’s leader.

Some Hong Kongers and foreign governments have expressed concern about Beijing’s encroachment since the disappearance last year of five Hong Kong residents affiliated with a publisher of gossipy books on Chinese politicians, which are banned in the mainland. The five surfaced in China, where officials said they had voluntarily traveled and aided various investigations. In June, however, one of the booksellers who returned to Hong Kong said he had been abducted and detained for selling works deemed subversive.

Pro-establishment parties are also facing an uphill climb in Sunday’s election because of the unpopularity of Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying and his administration. Mr. Leung was selected in March 2012 for a five-year term by a largely pro-Beijing committee of business and political elites. It is unclear if he will run for re-election next year.

Write to Mia Lamar at and Chester Yung at


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Bookseller Lam Wing-kee (C) takes part in a protest march with pro-democracy lawmakers and supporters in Hong Kong, China June 18, 2016.

 (Contains many  links to articles on the Chinese human rights lawyers)


Hong Kong: Important Election on Sunday

September 2, 2016

How Hong Kong’s version of democracy works


HONG KONGERS head to the polls on September 4th to pick their representatives in what, by China’s standards, is a remarkably democratic institution: the Legislative Council of Hong Kong (Legco). When China took possession of Hong Kong from the British in 1997 it promised the territory a high degree of autonomy for 50 years. In the run-up to these elections, the first since the “umbrella revolution” protests of 2014, local newspapers have been filled with candidates who mistrust those guarantees, and by some who want to renegotiate Hong Kong’s relationship with the mainland. Yet it can be taken for granted that a clutch of parties supported by the government in Beijing will continue to dominate Hong Kong’s political system. How does the territory’s democratic process work?

For more than 30 years Hong Kong’s political parties have been split roughly into two camps. On one side are the “pan-democrats”, who argue that only a democratic system can safeguard the civil liberties the territory enjoyed under the British (whom many of the pan-democrats opposed, before the handover). They stand against the “pro-government” or “pro-Beijing” politicians, who regard themselves as patriotic allies of their counterparts in the rest of China. They tend to say that fair elections are less important than smooth relations with the Communist Party in Beijing. The role of Legco is to debate the laws and budgets put forward by the territory’s executive branch. The institution is at least partially democratic. But only 40 of its 70 seats are elected through universal suffrage. The remaining 30 seats belong to so-called “functional constituencies”. Their legislators are chosen by groups representing different classes of professionals, business interests and rural communities. In the term just ending, the pan-democrats held 21 of the 40 seats chosen by popular vote. The functional seats, by contrast, tend to be tilted towards people keen to keep the Communist Party happy: the pro-government parties hold 24 out of 30. The arrangement of functional constituencies and their weighting against the other seats ensures that pro-Beijing parties have held a majority in every Legco since handover.

Since the protests of 2014, which began as a demand for the democratic election of the chief executive, the traditional two-camp distinction has been eroding. A new category has emerged within the pan-democratic side, one that favours greater autonomy. Many of the young activists who led the sit-ins two years ago have turned into politicians. Known as “localists”, this new generation is frustrated with the traditional pan-democrats and infuriated with China’s rulers. Demosisto, a prominent new party, advocates civil disobedience and a referendum to determine Hong Kong’s fate after the 50-year agreement is up. Other parties, such as the Hong Kong National Party, have called for outright independence. This alarms China and so becomes a problem for Hong Kong’s rulers. Despite its relatively moderate stance, Demosisto has been refused a bank account and had its election materials rejected. In July Hong Kong’s electoral-affairs commission required that all prospective candidates for Legco declare that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China. Six who refused, or seemed insincere, were disqualified.

Many Hong Kongers wish their votes would count for something. A growing minority is willing to fight for it. Some of the new parties say they are polling well and could even win seats. Two banned localist candidates are challenging the legality of their exclusion. Despite their split, pan-democrats and localists are plotting together to win enough Legco seats to retain the power to veto government proposals. An electoral majority is beyond their grasp—by design of the system—but the contest is real nonetheless.


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Bookseller Lam Wing-kee (C) takes part in a protest march with pro-democracy lawmakers and supporters in Hong Kong, China June 18, 2016.

 (Contains many  links to articles on the Chinese human rights lawyers)

Hong Kong Ready for Legislative Council Elections — But China Worries Over Small Rumblings of Independence — Hong Kong government is only a puppet government as China rules

September 2, 2016

The Associated Press

Two years after the end of chaotic pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, a number of young activists who were politically awakened by the movement hope to keep its spirit alive by running for political office on Sunday.

The young radicals hope to ride a rising tide of anti-Beijing sentiment and win seats on the Legislative Council. They’re up against both formidable pro-Beijing parties and older pro-democracy ones.

Hong Kong National Party convenor Andy Chan, disqualified by the Hong Kong government to run in the Legislative Council election, poses in Hong Kong, China August 19, 2016. Picture taken August 19, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

At stake is the power to keep the city’s pro-Beijing leader and his government in check. The pro-democracy camp currently controls 27 of 70 seats, and must keep at least a third of the seats to retain to veto power.

The risk is that new candidates could split the pro-democracy vote, handing pro-Beijing parties more seats and allowing the government to enact controversial and unpopular laws, such as a long-stalled anti-subversion legislation or a Beijing-backed electoral reform package. That in turn could spark a new round of protests and exacerbate widening divisions in the specially administered Chinese city.

Here are views from across Hong Kong’s political spectrum:



At 19, Joshua Wong is already a veteran of Hong Kong’s democracy battle. The slight, bespectacled activist shot to global prominence two years ago when his high school group Scholarism helped lead massive protests against Beijing’s plan for restricted elections for the city’s top leader. The protests brought key districts to a standstill for 11 weeks but did not gain concessions.

Now Wong’s new political party, Demosisto, is joining the election fray by fielding 23-year-old Nathan Law, another Occupy protest veteran. A minimum age requirement of 21 prevents Wong himself from running.

Amid rising calls for Hong Kong’s independence, Demosisto proposes a referendum on self-determination for Hong Kong after a transition period to Chinese rule ends in 2047. The city became Chinese territory in 1997 after Britain’s departure, but retains wide autonomy.

“We believe people should gain the right to determine their future,” Wong said.

Wong said recent incidents have added to fears Beijing is undermining Hong Kong’s rule of law and judicial independence. In the most prominent case, five booksellers were detained, including one suspected of being snatched by Chinese security agents and spirited across the border to the mainland.

“If Hong Kong does not have rule of law anymore, Hong Kong is not Hong Kong anymore,” Wong said.



A new crop of activist groups has sought to use the election to channel growing frustration, especially among young people, over Beijing’s uncompromising stance on Hong Kong. Many of these radical activist “localist” groups, which sprang up after the unresolved ending of the 2014 protests, espouse the view that Hong Kong’s interests come first. Some even demand independence for the city.

Despite there being no chance of separation, the government has tried to shut down the debate. Election officials disqualified six candidates with pro-independence views from running, including 25-year-old Andy Chan of the Hong Kong National Party, and warned others not to advocate the idea or it would take “follow-up actions.”

Hong Kong’s independence “is bound to occur. It’s the only way out,” said Chan. In an interview, Chan revealed few details about his group, such as how many members it has.

“The people of Hong Kong have fought for democracy for many years and have always respected the Chinese government,” he said.

Chan said he believes Hong Kongers should direct their demands to Beijing because “the Hong Kong government is only a puppet government, a colonial government. So our target all along has been the Chinese government.”

“The way I see it,” he added, “if Hong Kong becomes independent, if we break off the relationship, then we don’t need to beg the Beijing government for democracy. We will have democracy.”



Former security chief Regina Ip is one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-Beijing figures. In 2003, she spearheaded the government’s failed efforts to enact controversial anti-subversion legislation, which faced massive public opposition, with half a million people taking to the streets to protest against it.

Ip is now a lawmaker known for her hard-line views who’s running for re-election.

“Hong Kong has been highly polarized by the constitutional debate on how to elect the chief executive, by the Occupy Central movement,” Ip said. She said much public anger is stemming from income inequality.

Ip said young people are calling for independence because they feel marginalized by China’s economic rise, which leaves them feeling unable to compete for jobs. She said stalled democratic development is adding to the frustration, and that Hong Kong needs to become more competitive.

“I am trying to mobilize the silent majority to vote for reconciliation, to vote for a constructive way forward,” she said.

Ip said the idea of independence is a “non-starter.”

“We get all our water from the mainland, most of our fresh fruits are from the mainland, even our building materials, and a lot of business is from the mainland,” she said. “I don’t think Hong Kong can survive without the mainland.”



While the new crop of activist candidates and their older mainstream counterparts both want Beijing to back off and give Hong Kong genuine democracy, there are sharp disagreements over how to get what they want.

The activists slam the mainstream parties for using peaceful protests and negotiations with Beijing, saying that violence could be justified to achieve their aims. Mainstream pro-democracy parties believe that, under the “one country, two systems” framework, Hong Kong is part of China and they should fight to bring democracy to the mainland. The radicals disagree and say Hong Kong should focus only on itself.

Veteran pro-democracy lawmaker Emily Lau, who expects to step down after this election, said Hong Kong should brace for more confrontations in the streets and in the council chamber if radical candidates win seats. It’s already common there for the city’s Beijing-backed leader, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, to be heckled by his harshest critics. One threw a water glass at Leung two years ago.

Lau said bitter divisions in Hong Kong could be resolved by dumping the deeply unpopular Leung, whose term ends next summer. Disagreements over how to choose the next chief executive were at the heart of 2014’s pro-democracy protests, with Beijing requiring that candidates be screened.

“Hong Kong is now facing its darkest hour since 1997, because the city is completely split asunder, by the policy of C.Y. Leung and Beijing,” said Lau.

Pro-democracy candidates and even some from pro-Beijing parties are campaigning on the theme of replacing Leung. It’s still unclear whether Beijing will tap him for a second term but a big victory for the anti-Leung camp would pressure China’s Communist Party leaders to find someone else.

“If we get rid of him, if we have a government which is more willing to listen to the people (to) come up with policies which are more acceptable, then maybe we can begin to heal the wounds,” said Lau.


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Her work can be found at


This story has been corrected to show that the water glass was thrown at Hong Kong Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying two years ago, not one, and to show that it is the Hong Kong National Party and not the Nationalist Party.


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Bookseller Lam Wing-kee (C) takes part in a protest march with pro-democracy lawmakers and supporters in Hong Kong, China June 18, 2016.

 (Contains many  links to articles on the Chinese human rights lawyers)

Hong Kong: Government’s decision to disqualify candidates sparks more discussion on Hong Kong’s future course — Hong Kong independence rally begins

August 6, 2016

Edward Chan King-sang says courts, not electoral officials, should make calls on whether candidates faked pledges

By Shirley Zhao
South China Morning Post

Friday, August 5, 2016, 11:24pm

The government’s decision to disqualify localist candidates from running in next month’s ­Legislative Council elections will have a “long and deep” negative impact on Hong Kong’s legal system, former Bar Association chairman Edward Chan ­King-sang said yesterday.

Chan’s comments came as outgoing lawmaker Emily Lau Wai-hing of the Democratic Party, wrote a letter yesterday to the Human Rights Committee under the United Nations about the “disturbing development”, ­condemning the rejections and calling on the committee to “take urgent action”.

Electoral officials had cited the candidates’ pro-independence stance as against the Basic Law, and that they did not “genuinely” respect and uphold the mini-constitution even after some had signed a declaration stating so.

Chan said if supporting Hong Kong independence was a crime and candidates were found guilty by the court, they could be disqualified even after they were elected.

Therefore it should also be up to the court, not electoral officers, to decide whether candidates had faked their pledges.

“[Faking pledges] is a very ­serious accusation,” said Chan in a Commercial Radio programme. “The legal system should be the one to decide whether candidates are guilty of this.”

Chan claimed officials and civil servants, who did not have legal power and should be objective, were letting politics “eat into” the legal system by bypassing it and passing judgment ­themselves.

 Edward Leung (centre) was one of several localist candidates disqualified from the coming polls by the Electoral Affairs Commission. Photo: AFP

Six pro-independence candidates, including Edward Leung Tin-kei of Hong Kong Indigenous, were disqualified from the September 4 elections by the Electoral Affairs Commission. A recent survey showed Leung could have won a seat if he had been allowed to run.

The city’s justice chief Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung on Wednesday defended the commission’s ­decisions, saying the returning ­officer’s call to invalidate Leung because she felt he had no intention of upholding the Basic Law, “had a legal basis”.

But Chan said the law is ­allowed to be amended and a person could uphold the law while wanting to change it. He added it could be argued that a lawmaker could pursue independence via discussions with the government and Beijing on law amendment.

A government spokesman countered that the Basic Law ­stipulates any amendment should not be against the central government’s principle policies on Hong Kong, which included that the city is an inalienable part of China. He said law amendment should not be allowed to become a means for reaching the goal of independence.

Meanwhile, Professor Lau ­Siu-kai, vice-chairman of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, warned Beijing might use more tactics to control pro-independence people.

He said the central government, facing increasing tension in international affairs and internal conflicts such as in Tibet and Xinjiang, could feel it ­needed to be more ­strong-handed on Hong Kong ­affairs and block localists’ path into Legco.

Hong Kong: Declaration document saying Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China is unnecessary, illegal and wrong

August 2, 2016

Sherif Elgebeily says the Electoral Affairs Commission runs the risk of being seen as suppressing dissent with its decision to bar a localist candidate from running


By Sherif Elgebeily
South China Morning Post

Last weekend, the Electoral Affairs Commission decided to invalidate the candidacy of Hong Kong National Party member Chan Ho-tin for the upcoming Legislative Council election. The exact reasons behind this are unclear, but other candidates who also refused to sign a newly imposed declaration form have yet to receive notice on the validity of their candidacies, fuelling concern.

The pledge to uphold the Basic Law is a fundamental part of the eligibility for candidacy, as outlined on the nomination form; it is for this reason that the ineligibility of Democratic Progressive Party of Hong Kong’s Yeung Ke-cheong – who refused to sign the nomination form itself – is legally valid.

Should Chan have been disqualified?

On one level, the additional declaration form is obsolete, as it simply duplicates existing obligations. Worse, it also appears to contravene both the rule of law in Hong Kong and the Basic Law in its effect.

First, there is no legal basis for the demand of an additional form, and the invalidation of candidacy on these grounds is beyond the powers of the commission. Any reference to such a form is absent in the law governing the election procedure; moreover, an exhaustive list of requirements for nomination is provided for under Section 40 of the Legislative Council Ordinance. Any legally enforceable declaration or criteria for the nomination of individuals would require amendments of the existing law, a path which has not been followed.

The commission has no absolute power to create new law

The commission has no absolute power to create new law. The form is also undermined by the commission’s own guidelines, which make mention of five explicit criteria for eligibility of nomination. They do not include the submission of a declaration form. These paradoxes raise alarm over the rule of law in Hong Kong, notably the separation of powers between government bodies and the supremacy of the law in an administrative context.

Second, in disqualifying candidates who are seen to advocate independence, on the grounds of failure to complete the declaration form, the commission has barred popularly supported candidates from representing their supporters. This infringes not only the rights of Hong Kong citizens to be elected, but also that of all citizens to elect their own representatives, and amounts to a violation of Article 26 of the Basic Law. To do so on the grounds of political belief also falls foul of articles 27 and 32 on free speech and the freedom of conscience. It is at best contradictory for the commission to disqualify candidates on the grounds of undermining the Basic Law while violating that document in doing so.

 Edward Leung speaks to the press last month. Leung received votes from some 66,000 Hong Kong people in the New Territories East by-election this year. Photo: AFP

Chan’s disqualification reflects a worrying trend of the regulation of Legco members. By eliminating voices of dissent at the ballot-paper stage, the authorities appear to be telling selected political groups that their opinions are either not welcome or not legitimate.

This rigid stance defies reality in today’s Hong Kong. Not all localist groups can be labelled anomalies. This year, for example, Hong Kong Indigenous’ Edward Leung Tin-kei won nearly 16 per cent of the vote in the New Territories East – over 66,000 voters in real terms. These citizens deserve to be heard.

Perhaps more importantly, voting patterns show that first-time and younger voters have been decidedly more involved in the election process, not only through casting ballots but also standing themselves. A new generation – those born after the handover – have reached voting age, and they care more about the status of Hong Kong and the full realisation of Basic Law freedoms than they do about the platforms that have traditionally formed political manifestos and campaigns. The government has a duty to engage with this demographic.

In essence, the decision to invalidate Legco candidacies over political stances is tantamount to the invalidation of the legitimacy of the voice of the youth today. From both a legal and political standpoint, the declaration form was unnecessary, illegal and threatens the future of the rule of law in Hong Kong.

Sherif Elgebeily (@selgebeily) is Bingham Centre International Rule of Law Visiting Fellow 2016, and a lecturer with the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Law

The Bingham Centre is a part of the British Institute of International and Comparative Law

Hong Kong: Pro-China Election Rules Changes Again Bring Out The Protesters

August 2, 2016
Anyone running for the legislature must sign a document pledging to support the notion that Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China — If you don’t sign, you cannot be part of the election….
By Reuters
Tuesday, 2 August 2016 14:53 GMT

* Candidates must sign form rejecting independence stance

* Opponents say that is assault on democracy

* Four candidates disqualified so far

By Tyrone Siu

HONG KONG, Aug 2 (Reuters) – Dozens of masked demonstrators tried to force their way into an electoral meeting in Hong Kong on Tuesday to protest against a new bar on anyone running for the legislature who refuses to declare the territory an “inalienable” part of China.

They were among hundreds of protesters gathered outside the meeting, a briefing for prospective parliamentarians, shouting for Hong Kong’s independence.

Inside the venue, some candidates who had been approved to run for election protested the decision to disqualify others.

Members of the League of Social Democrats and People Power tried several times to charge the stage and take the microphone before being pushed back by security, forcing the meeting to be suspended at least three times.

Politicians from other pro-democracy parties chanted: “No more political elimination!” and “Defend a fair election!”

The Electoral Affairs Commission (EAC) said last month that potential candidates for the September Legislative Council election must sign an additional “confirmation form” declaring Hong Kong an inalienable part of China and acknowledging that advocating independence could disqualify them from the election.

Hong Kong has greater freedoms than mainland China and separate laws that were guaranteed for 50 years as part of a “one country, two systems” framework negotiated with the British when they handed back their former colony.

But there has been political unrest in recent years centring on Beijing’s refusal to allow fully democratic elections and its perceived meddling in the special administrative region.

Beijing’s top official in Hong Kong came out in support of the EAC’s new form while three Hong Kong politicians filed a request for an urgent judicial review.

So far the EAC has rejected four candidates. Activists have posted personal attacks on some of the EAC officers responsible for the decision, actions that the Hong Kong government has condemned.

Edward Leung Tin-kei, who was rejected as a candidate by the EAC on Tuesday, responded by saying the city was ruled by a “dictatorship”, local broadcaster RTHK reported.

Leung, a leader of the group Hong Kong Indigenous was one of the first street activists to move into mainstream politics when he won an unexpected 15 percent of the vote in a February legislative by-election.

He had signed the EAC’s confirmation form, saying his top priority was to get elected. (Writing by Clare Baldwin; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)


Anger as Hong Kong pro-independence leader barred from polls — “Hong Kong’s Democratic Process is Rigged By China”

August 2, 2016


© AFP | Edward Leung of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, speaks to reporters outside the High Court on July 27, 2016

HONG KONG (AFP) – A high-profile Hong Kong pro-independence leader said Tuesday he had been barred from standing in upcoming parliamentary elections — the latest candidate backing separation from mainland China to be disqualified.

The apparent ban for Edward Leung, of the Hong Kong Indigenous party, from the September vote came despite him signing a controversial new form (document) declaring Hong Kong is an “inalienable” part of China.

Critics have slammed the new stipulation by electoral authorities as political censorship and an attempt to deter prospective candidates from advocating self-determination or independence from Beijing.

Some activists are calling for more distance or even a complete breakaway from the mainland as fears grow that freedoms in the semi-autonomous city are disappearing due to Beijing interference.

Campaigners, including Leung, have challenged the declaration form in court and at least 13 prospective candidates have refused to sign it.

Leung, 25, eventually signed last week, despite his open advocacy for an independent Hong Kong, in the hope the authorities would validate his candidacy.

But his party said Tuesday he had been rejected.

It accused the electoral commission of “trampling the will of the people, abusing administrative power and giving up political neutrality”.

“There is no way the crime of selecting candidates according to political goals can be easily forgiven,” it said in a statement.

The founder of the pro-independence Hong Kong National Party, Andy Chan, was one of three other hopefuls barred in recent days from standing in the September vote.

Chan had refused to sign the declaration form.

The other two prospective candidates who disqualified were also part of the “localist” movement, which is pushing for more autonomy for Hong Kong after mass pro-democracy rallies in 2014 failed to win political reform.

Beijing and Hong Kong officials have repeatedly said that advocating independence goes against the city’s mini constitution, known as the Basic Law, and that independence activists could face legal consequences.

Various government departments including the electoral office made no comment Tuesday.

The government Monday condemned what it called “malicious personal attacks” online aimed at returning officers over their decisions during the registration period and said police may take action.

Hong Kong was returned from Britain to China in 1997 under an arrangement that guarantees civil liberties unseen on the mainland.

But concerns have grown that such freedoms are now fading as Beijing increases its influence across a range of areas, from politics to the media.


What Happened to Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement?

June 5, 2015


Still riven over strategy, tactics, and core values, many now consider the 2014 protests a failure.


What Happened to Hong Kong’s Pro-Democracy Movement?

HONG KONG – The activists from last year’s massive democracy occupation have splintered. Nowhere is this clearer than on college campuses represented by the Hong Kong Federation of Students, one of the architects of the fall 2014 pro-democracy protests that roiled the Chinese territory. Students at three local universities have voted to quit the league of university students; more vote drives are underway. Critics, some swayed by rising nativist anger, say student leaders’ insistence on passive resistance at the height of the protests doomed the push for open elections for the city’s chief executive, instead of a slate of candidates pre-vetted by Beijing.

As the wounded student group tries to shore up its membership, its allies worry that the loss of a united student front will push the already anemic pro-democracy camp closer to irrelevance.

Since February, students at three local universities have voted to leave the federation; balloting at another campus is underway and more drives are expected. The results could re-shape the future of the Hong Kong protest movement, just as the city’s government is debating a new elections law. It would, for the first time, let citizens cast ballots for the chief executive, albeit only among candidates that pass muster with Beijing.

The division among democracy protesters began shortly after police fired teargas at demonstrators in September 2014, during discussions under the tarpaulins shielding protest camps from the rain. Many protesters blamed the federation for being opaque, passive, and shackled to the city’s old guard liberals – the so-called pan-democrats. Some in the sit-in chided the federation’s leaders for taking no action when the government refused to negotiate, and for the student leaders’ “greater-China bias,” a focus on bringing democracy to the nation, rather than addressing Hong Kong concerns.

Today, many participants from last year’s occupation consider the movement a failure. After all, the strike did not achieve its stated goals of toppling the chief executive, C.Y. Leung, or jettisoning the election system in which 1,600 business and trade groups chose him. In fact, the campaign won no material concessions. The federation had kicked off the protest with a week-long class boycott, and has become an easy target for those disappointed. “Students felt betrayed by the federation,” said Leonard Sheung-fung Tang, a political science student leading the campaign to end federation ties at City University. The federation has lost the trust of students, and if it urged people to stand up to the police again, Tang said, most students wouldn’t listen.

Throughout the protest, student federation leaders preached non-violence even as they faced withering criticism for that tactic – especially online and on social media — as a more radical faction grew in prominence, if not number. Months after police cleared the democracy encampments, several veterans of the occupation urged people to join rallies to protect Hong Kong against a mainland incursion. Hundreds of angry people verbally attacked mainland visitors and confronted police. 

Those rallies marked some success; the government in Shenzhen, the mainland city closes to Hong Kong, changed a visa policy that will limit its residents to one Hong Kong visit per week. The protesters who had decried


Government opponents, they said, would need to act more like Malcolm X, and less like Martin Luther King Jr.


Violence, as a tool to creating democracy, isn’t the right tactic, said Alex Chow, the federation’s general secretary. He told Foreign Policy that many students, anxious about the future, were unfairly punishing the federation for perceived weakness. “It is unrealistic to think people could win such a giant change through a single tiny movement,” said Chow, who will graduate soon from the University of Hong Kong. A fractured federation, he said, “will weaken the ability of students to mobilize to counter the government.” If students aren’t united, other organizations, he said, will have to work harder to gain citizens’ trust.

Some undergraduates fume that students lack control over the federation’s decisions and finances. Just as Hong Kong’s residents could only elect their chief executive through proxies, students have had no direct voice in choosing the federation’s top leaders. Chow, like his successor, was picked by a committee comprising representatives from the eight member schools. “I do not think they’re a democratic structure. It’s a bit like the Chinese Communist party,” said Andy Chan, an engineering and business administration student who led the recent successful campaign against the federation at Polytechnic University. Federation members counter that the committee representatives, not the secretary general, wield power.

Added to that mistrust are mounting accusations that the federation and pan-democrat politicians are trying to mollify, even co-opt, mainland residents instead of keeping them out of Hong Kong, endangering the city’s future. Nativist views have bubbled in the city for years, sometimes exploding into full-throated racist rants against mainlanders. They have been accused of everything from cramping maternity wards, and depleting stores of milk powder, to increasing property prices and robbing local students of school and university seats. (To help calm frantic residents, city officials produced a report in 2014, hoping to prove that some fears had been exaggerated, to little avail.)

Federation leaders said they will spend the coming months trying to repair relations with constituents. The group, some members said, is considering changing some governing laws to answer critics’ concerns. Disagreements continue. On April 27, the federation announced that it would not join this year’s June 4 candlelight vigil commemorating the Tiananmen Square massacre, the federation’s first abstention since the event began. Students said that those with nativist views rejected the theme of this year’s event: bringing democracy to China.

Some observers, including Chi Keung Choy, a senior politics lecturer at Chinese University of Hong Kong and a one-time federation member, said the city’s pro-democracy camp will be weaker without the federation’s involvement. Chow said that the federation has an important role to play in future democracy protests: “You still need people to represent, to voice out, to counter the government at the end of the day.”

Now that some of the federation’s core constituency – university students – has rejected its leadership, the rupture could cost the group precious clout in Hong Kong’s wobbly democracy push. Several federation members acknowledged privately that the days are gone when their leaders’ passionate speeches drew cheering crowds, when their appearance on a live, televised debate with government officials riveted the city.

But the federation’s critics insist, the democracy movement remains a leaderless one, even as it becomes less passive. “There will be different kinds of protests, maybe more radical. More radical movements will be possible because we will not have a big organization to control the movements,’’ said Ventus Wing-hong Lau, who organized a referendum drive at Chinese University to sever federation ties. This will make the response from the police and government “more difficult to control, and to predict.”

 Drake Leung contributed reporting.


Local residents pray at a candlelight vigil to pay their respects to the passengers of the sunken cruise ship on the Yangtze River, at a public square in Jianli, Hubei province, China, June 4, 2015.