Democracy activist Joshua Wong's party will push for Hong Kong self-determination
Demosistō's founding comes amid the rise of localism in the city
Some "localists" advocate for full independence, others for more autonomy
One of Hong Kong’s most famous democracy activists has announced the formation of a new political party amid heightened tensions in the city over the alleged kidnapping of several booksellers and perceived interference by Beijing in official affairs.
Joshua Wong says that his new party – Demosistō – “will demand self-determination” for Hong Kong.
“This is our most important policy,” he told CNN. “If we do not fight for self-determination the Chinese Communist Party will determine our future.”
The party accompanied its announcement with a striking poster of co-founder Agnes Chow as Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games,” with the slogan “the people will surround the city.”
Party of the future?
Wong is the former convener of student group Scholarism, which helped lead mass protests in 2012 that successfully saw off a plan to introduce “moral and national education” classes in Hong Kong schools, which many saw as an attempt by Beijing to exercise greater control over the Special Administrative Region.
Scholarism and Wong were also greatly involved in 2014’s so-called “Umbrella Movement” taking a leadership role alongside Occupy Central and the Hong Kong Federation of Students as pro-democracy protesters shut down much of central Hong Kong for 79 days.
That year, Wong was nominated for TIME’s Person of the Year and named by Fortune magazine as one of the World’s Greatest Leaders in 2015.
Wong said the first goal of the new political party would be to expand its support beyond students and young people as it pressures for a referendum on the city’s future beyond 2047.
That’s when the current “one country, two systems” policy, in which Hong Kong is granted a degree of autonomy from China, is due to expire.
“Time is on our side,” Wong said. “We will prepare for the worst and continue to have an optimistic mindset.”
Rise of localism
Last year, Hong Kong’s Legislative Council (LegCo), the city’s parliament, voted against a political reform package backed by Beijing that would have introduced limited universal suffrage but had been dismissed by pro-democracy campaigners as “ridiculous” – it would have seen the central government pre-select candidates.
Since then, the city’s government has made it clear that further attempts at reform are not a priority, and Hong Kong has seen the rise of a major new political faction: the self-described “localist” movement.
While in the past most pro-democracy parties have pushed for more representation for Hong Kong under the auspices of “one country, two systems,” increasingly politicians and activists have renounced the policy as irredeemably flawed.
They point to increasing interference by Beijing, particularly the alleged abduction and charging of several Hong Kong booksellers who specialized in banned materials critical of China’s leadership.
Localist groups were highly involved in the Mong Kok riots in February, when a government crackdown on unlicensed street food vendors turned violent, and police fought pitched battles with protesters, even firing warning shots in the air.
Localists advocate for greater autonomy for Hong Kong, with some pushing for full independence.
Beijing, and its supporters in the city, have been highly critical of the movement, with the central government’s top official in the city denouncing Mong Kok protesters as “radical separatists,” a term usually reserved for those pushing for Tibetan independence.
Wong’s new Demosistō party will fight its first election campaign later this year, when the city picks the next Legislative Council (LegCo), but some localists have already struck a cord with voters.
In a LegCo by-election in late February, pro-democracy parties won more than 52% of the vote, with localist Hong Kong Indigenous candidate Edward Leung grabbing 15.4%. Leung, 24, was arrested during the Mong Kok riots and advocates full independence for Hong Kong.
While Wong and Demosistō do not advocate independence, their “most important policy” will be self-determination for the city.
“We want one person, one vote to decide the future of Hong Kong after 2047,” Wong said.
“If we do not fight for self-determination, the Chinese Communist Party will determine our future.”
Wong was confident that younger Hongkongers, awakened politically by the Umbrella Movement, will continue the fight for democracy.
“Time is on our side,” he said.
“We will prepare for the worst, but continue to have an optimistic mindset.”
Founded by Wong and fellow Scholarism leaders Agnes Chow, Oscar Lai and former university student leader Nathan Law, Demosistō will likely have little problem connecting with its young supporter base.
But the party’s original name did cause some consternation online, and no small amount of mockery.
“How do we pronounce this word?!” one commenter complained on Facebook. Another uploaded a parody poster in which the party’s slogan had been replaced by characters saying “don’t know how to pronounce.”
In a statement, the party said its name was a combination of the Greek word “demos,” from which democracy is derived, and the Latin root term “sisto,” to stand up.
“To stand up for democracy, this is our philosophy,” the statement said.