Hong Kong authorities block pro-democracy candidate from byelection

Demosisto member Agnes Chow had reportedly renounced her British citizenship and deferred her studies to stand for legislative council

Hong Kong’s embattled pro-democracy movement has suffered another blow after authorities barred a leading member of the “umbrella” movement from standing in a byelection.

Agnes Chow, a 21-year-old activist, had hoped to help her Demosisto party regain a foothold in the city’s 70-member legislative council, or Legco, after a number of pro-democracy legislators, including her party mate Nathan Law, were forced from office in 2017.

However, on Saturday authorities announced that Chow – who, like her party, supports Hong Kong’s right to “self-determination” – would not be able to run in byelections set to be held in March.

“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 [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region],” a government spokesperson said, according to the South China Morning Post.

Chow, who had reportedly renounced her British citizenship and deferred her studies in order to stand, was one of the most recognisable faces of the umbrella movement protests of 2014. The historic mobilisation paralysed Hong Kong’s financial heart for 79 days but ultimately failed to win democratic concessions from Beijing, which has controlled the former British colony since handover in 1997.

In 2016, Chow and other umbrella movement leaders including Joshua Wong and Nathan Law sought to advance their quest for democracy by founding a political party called Demosisto to dispute seats in the Legco.

“The Chinese government keeps lying to Hong Kong’s people and making fake promises to us … So it is the time for Hong Kong people to fight back,” Chow told the Guardian at the time. “It is very difficult to fight for the self-determination and democracy of Hong Kong [but] … we will stand firm and we will not give up in our movement.”

In a recent interview with Hong Kong Free Press Chow described herself as a swimming enthusiast and fan of Japanese pop music who would place housing, education and the struggle for democracy at the centre of her campaign.

Responding to speculation that she could be barred from running as a result of her political views, Chow said: “Demosisto advocates self-determination, which is about civil liberties, universal suffrage, and the ability to make life choices and not follow rules made by big businesses working in cahoots with the government. It’s completely different from advocating independence.”

Chow, who had hoped to become Hong Kong’s youngest ever legislator, also dismissed the idea that she was too inexperienced to hold office: “I’ve been an activist for six years; I didn’t come out of nowhere.”

Since becoming a special administrative region of China two decades ago, Hong Kong has been ruled under the “one country, two systems” formula, meaning its 7.3 million citizens enjoy greater social and political liberties than under the mainland’s authoritarian system. However that 50-year deal expires in 2047 and activists such as Chow fear Hong Kong could at that point completely lose its autonomy, and argue that citizens have the right to decide how it is then ruled.

Having stared down the umbrella movement protests, China’s president, Xi Jinping, has signalled Beijing will show zero tolerance to those lobbying for self-determination or independence. In 2017 Xi staged Hong Kong’s biggest military parade since handover, a move analysts said was designed to intimidate such groups and show Beijing’s determination to destroy them.

“They are out of their minds because they are afraid this is going to catch on,” Suzanne Pepper, a political observer whose blog chronicles Hong Kong’s struggle for democracy, said of China’s Communist party leaders at the time. “So what they are trying to do is nip this in the bud before it goes any further.”


Tom Phillips in Beijing

The GuardianTramp

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