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A month ago, pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong stood in front of Hong Kong’s government building to announce his candidacy for district council. Flags bearing Wong’s picture, name, and the district “South Horizons” fluttered in the background as he stood beside former Hong Kong lawmakers who had been disqualified from office due to their political views.
If elected, 23-year-old Wong said he would have worked on local issues like traffic management or neighborhood beautification. “I don’t see these duties as unimportant, rather I’m convinced that democracy will grow from the ground, from our communities,” Wong said during his announcement in late September. “The voting in November is the first institutional method to reflect the landslide public discontent since the summer of discontent.”
Yet Wong won’t have the opportunity to occupy the South Horizons West district council seat. On Tuesday, Wong held another press conference at the same spot to announce that Hong Kong authorities had barred him from running on Nov. 24. He urged voters to instead support candidate Kelvin Lam, who registered to run in case Wong was disqualified.
Election officials said Wong’s political stance on self-determination—allowing Hong Kong’s people to decide their future—is incompatible with the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution. They claimed that with self-determination, Hong Kongers could potentially choose independence, contrary to the Basic Law’s assertion that Hong Kong is a part of China.
“The ban is clearly politically driven,” Wong said on Tuesday. “The so-called reason is judging subjectively on my intention to uphold the Basic Law. But everyone knows the true reason is my identity—Joshua Wong is a crime in their mind.”
Wong said he supported a nonbinding referendum on self-determination and later added that independence was not a vital option but a possible view that people may want to vote for. During questioning by election official Laura Aron, Wong said that he and his political group Demosistō “do not promote and support independence as an option of self-determination.”
Aron wrote in her ruling that Wong changed his view as “a compromise, instead of a genuine intention” and still supported independence as an option. She said that disqualified him from the race.
The Hong Kong government has formed an election crisis management committee to help decide whether the election should be delayed if violent protests break out on Election Day. If the election were postponed, it would be held the next Sunday. Election rules dictate the vote can be delayed by only 14 days.
Wong first entered politics at age 14, organizing demonstrations against a Beijing-friendly education curriculum in Hong Kong. Four years later, he became the face of the Umbrella Movement, which urged China to allow direct elections for Hong Kong’s chief executive. He later served two prison sentences for his role in the protests.
In an interview earlier this year, Wong told me his Christian faith influences his political advocacy.
“I was raised in a Christian family and realized that justice is a core value in the Bible,” Wong said. “When I read the Bible, I realize there should be certain moral principles in this society and we must respect people’s uniqueness and their individual rights.”
Hong Kong downturn?
With monthslong protests disrupting tourism and retail industries, Chief Executive Carrie Lam said Hong Kong will likely enter a recession.