Students form new parties, push for self-determination

Student groups that led Hong Kong’s 2014 pro-democracy protests – also known as the Umbrella movement – have set up their own political parties in Hong Kong to continue to press their demands using political means after they failed to wrest concessions from the Hong Kong government during huge street protests.

If they begin to win seats in upcoming local elections, they will dramatically change the political landscape in Hong Kong, analysts have said.

The latest of the new parties is Demosisto, whose founding members’ average age is barely into their 20s. “We need to prepare for a long-term political struggle after the street protests failed,” said Agnes Chow, 19, a founding member of Demosisto. She was formerly an activist with Scholarism, made up of mainly high school students who were part of the Umbrella movement.

“We believe the power to change Hong Kong and determine its destiny is rooted in the collective will of the masses, not only in the hands of the few political leaders or protesters,” the Demosisto’s founders said in a statement issued last Friday, in advance of the Sunday launch of the new party.

Demosisto combines the Greek word demos or people with the Latin word for ‘stand firm‘ and is loosely translated as ‘the will of the people’.

Former Hong Kong Federation of Students leader Nathan Law, 22, is the new party’s chairman, and student leader Joshua Wong, former convener of Scholarism – which has now been disbanded – is party secretary. Both were among the most important faces of the street protests.

The new party has said it will field candidates in most constituencies in Hong Kong’s legislative council elections which will take place in September.

Demosisto will go into the election as a coalition of six student-dominated groups formed in the past year. They include Youngspiration, Hong Kong Indigenous, and other local groups. Youngspiration came to public attention after one of its members won a Hong Kong district council seat in last year’s local elections.


Baggio Leung, convener of Youngspiration told local newspapers: “One of our main aims is to make use of the elections to promote our roadmap and timetable for self-determination. To us, election is a means, not the end."

Many of the new parties, concerned about Beijing’s tightened controls of press and academic freedoms, are calling for Hong Kong to be independent of mainland China. However, Leung said at the weekend: “If you held a referendum today, I am sure the pro-independent site would lose."

Youngspiration is one of the parties calling for the right of Hong Kong people to decide whether to be independent of the mainland. But he said a plebiscite should be held earlier rather than later, as early as within five years. “We are fighting against time,” he said.

Wong, Demosisto party’s most internationally recognisable face, said his party is also calling to hold a referendum within 10 years. “Hong Kong people should decide the future of Hong Kong rather than allowing the Communist Party to determine our future,” Wong said.

The issue is the fate of Hong Kong beyond 2047 when China’s handover agreement with Britain expires.

The agreement, signed in 1984, allows Hong Kong to continue with its own government and many freedoms not allowed on the Chinese mainland under the so-called ‘one country, two systems' principle for 50 years after the handover to Chinese rule, which took place in 1997.

Wong said he accepted the 'one country, two systems' model of democracy and autonomy under Chinese sovereignty, but he said 'one country, two systems' had lost its way.

He pointed to Beijing’s 2014 White Paper on Hong Kong which asserted “complete jurisdiction” over Hong Kong, and the recent case of booksellers in Hong Kong who were allegedly abducted to the Chinese mainland before being released after an international outcry.

Students at Hong Kong University said the main difference between Demosisto and groups such as Youngspiration was that Youngspiration was closer to local communities and was working with them on pent up grievances, while Demosisto has said it will seek international support for Hong Kong’s right to decide its own future.

Radical groups

Demosisto’s founders sought to distance themselves from more radical groups such as the Hong Kong National Party formed last month, which has still to secure formal registration as a party.

The Hong Kong National Party, led by Chan Ho-tin, a former student at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and whose membership comprises mostly university students and other young activists, is calling for outright independence from China.

Beijng’s office in charge of Hong Kong affairs – the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office – said in a statement published by China’s official news agency Xinhua at the end of March that such a pro-independence party “has harmed the interests of Hong Kong”.

“It is also a serious violation of the country’s constitution, Hong Kong’s Basic Law (or mini-constitution) and the relevant existing laws.”

Demosisto Chairman Law said their party would collect views from the public rather than engaging with Beijing. “We don’t see any outcome when we communicate with the central government [Beijing], so now we will not have any communication with [them],” he said.

But independence would only be one of the options in the proposed referendum. There would also be an option to stay part of China, he said.

“We don’t see ourselves as localists,” Law said, referring to groups that have been closer to the grassroots, and who are pushing back forcefully against the increasing influence of mainland China on Hong Kong affairs to the extent that some are calling for independence.