Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong disqualified from local elections

PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist and leader of Hong Kongs Demosisto party, Joshua Wong, left, speaks at a press conference outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Oct. 29, 2019, after he was barred from running in the District Council Elections.PlayJerome Favre/EPA via Shutterstock
WATCH Across the Pond: Hong Kong bans protest leader from running in local elections

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and former student leader Joshua Wong, 23, has been barred from running for local elections next month over his political stance.

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He is the only candidate to have his nomination disqualified after being vetted by a government electoral commission.

The reason given by the electoral official was that the stance of Wong and his political party, Demosisto, on "self-determination" did not comply with the city's mini-constitution, the Basic Law, which outlines how Hong Kong would be governed under Beijing's "One Country, Two Systems" framework that in theory allows the former British Colony semi-autonomy. The official claimed that Wong was misleading the public about his public statements disavowing independence.

Speaking to the media outside the government offices on Tuesday, Wong blasted the decision as political vetting and said the returning officers who interviewed him were acting like "thought police."

"The ban is clearly politically driven," Wong told the gathered press, adding that he believed it was an order that came from Beijing. "Everyone knows the true reason is my identity. Joshua Wong is a crime in their mind."

PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to journalists after being disqualified from running in Novembers local districts council elections, in Hong Kong, Oct. 29, 2019. Tyrone Siu/Reuters
Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong speaks to journalists after being disqualified from running in November's local district's council elections, in Hong Kong, Oct. 29, 2019.

Wong rose to prominence as the young, bespectacled student leader during the 2014 Umbrella Movement protests that occupied and shut down the streets of Hong Kong for two and half months.

Wong, however, has largely stayed on sidelines in the seemingly leaderless protests that have roiled the semi-autonomous Chinese territory since June, which began while Wong was still serving one of two short stints in prison for his role in the 2014 protests.

If Wong had been allowed to run and won, it would have moved him from an activist to an elected official in mainstream politics. Just the mere possibility of a pro-democracy activist of such international recognition bolstered by electoral legitimacy may have been too unpalatable for Beijing.

Chinese state media, including the Communist Party's mouthpiece The People's Daily, has regularly characterized Wong as pro-independence leader, but Wong denied it even on Tuesday, saying he has never "actively advocated for independence."

Wong said he believed his travels to the United States to testify in Congress in September for the "Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act" was the main reason for his election ban.

The Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act, which passed in the House and moving towards a vote in the Senate, would subject Hong Kong to a yearly review by Washington to see whether it is sufficiently autonomous from Beijing to deserve the special trade status that it enjoys that separate from mainland China.

PHOTO: Pro-democracy activist and leader of Hong Kongs Demosisto party, Joshua Wong, left, speaks at a press conference outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Oct. 29, 2019, after he was barred from running in the District Council Elections. Jerome Favre/EPA via Shutterstock
Pro-democracy activist and leader of Hong Kong's Demosisto party, Joshua Wong, left, speaks at a press conference outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, Oct. 29, 2019, after he was barred from running in the District Council Elections.

Wong had planned to run for his neighborhood seat during the district council elections that are scheduled for Nov. 24. Normally tasked with basic neighborhood issues such as street lamp placement and noise complaints, the positions of district councilors have taken on more significance in the wake of months of protests.

Historically, the district council has been dominated by the pro-establishment camp. However, this year's elections are seen as a litmus test for the popular sentiment growing out of the anti-government protests with possible real democratic consequences.

Whichever side gains the majority of district seats will gain 117 votes in the special electoral committee that chooses the next leader for Hong Kong, set in three years' time.

Wong warned that the decision Tuesday would further galvanize supporters.

"My disqualification will only trigger more people to take to the streets and vote in the coming elections," Wong said.