It was a conclusion written in advance, but Joshua Wong and his friends refused to believe it until the end. The “kids” got their comeuppance at the Hong Kong local by-elections. As a reminder, these by-elections were called after the disqualification of several Wong sympathizers for improperly taking their oath at the Legislative Council (the “LegCo”).
History of a failure
In September 2016, two years after the umbrella movement, the pro-democrat kids who had been the “leaders” of a headless movement decided to launch themselves into politics. Surfing on the wave of discontent that arose from the Umbrella movement, the protest leaders turned apprentice politicians field very young candidates, hence grabbing six seats at the LegCo.
Hailed as a challenge to Beijing, the election thrust the inexperienced kids into a dangerous limelight, where they confused politics in an elected assembly with the gimmicks that won them support for their “Occupy” movement. It is thus, that each one of them launched into an incomprehensible mix of protest and of theatrics at their oath-taking ceremony. Yau Wai-Ching, the baby-faced girl inserted an obscene interjection in her oath, while she and her fellow protester cum politican, Sixtus Leung wrapped themselves in flags saying “Hong Kong is not China”.
Not unsurprisingly, both were disqualified from their functions and barred from either retaking the oath (as they pathethically suggested) or from even running for the election again. Probably the most funny part was that they complained having to refund the LegCo for their salaries (which they had already all spent).
The “Oathgate” protests
This triggered a short-lived protest, but once the emotions fell down, people started realizing that their apprentice politicans had actually let them down.
The incoherence of the group of kids further discredited them, when they first offered to retake the oath, then complained about having to refund their salaries.
In fact, if they wanted to just use their election to stage a political stunt and walk away from the LegCo, they should have prepared to do so. Instead, it seemed that the kids totally misjudged their opponents’ readiness to pounce on their mistakes. It seems they genuinely thought they could have remained as LegCo members, despite making their oath a farce. Even in a normal democracy, not one held in a stranglehold like Hong Kong, I highly doubt they could have carried out this stunt and remained in the parliament.
A legal battle lost in advance
In the meantime, Beijing issued a ruling on the interpretation of Hong Kong basic law, stating that individuals who did not take the oath with the required solemnity could not be a LegCo member, nor be allowed to retake an oath. Even without this ruling, their case was already well doomed, and they lost every instance of their legal fight.
At the same time, the Hong Kong government appealed a lenient sentence pronounced against Joshuah Wong and his comrades for their occupation of the “civic square”. Speaking in strictly legal terms, the sentence and the motivation did seem sound. Where the kids, again, lost credibility was in their whining after being sentenced to prison for “civil disobedience”. Real civil disobedience makes of prison terms one of the tools with which to fight an unjust law, but the kids thought they would get away with just some symbolic sentencing. The shock was total when the Court of Appeal reversed the sentence and ordered them to prison. Despite international clamoring by medias, Hong Kong people just saw kids who got caught by the consequences of their own game. The improvement of the future of hongkongese was not in the cards.
The last fight
Fast forward to 2018, and the kids try a last comeback with some protests on the occasion of the visit of Xi Jinping. But it is there where their isolation is cruelly noticed. Besides Wong and his comrades, the public did not join them. Where the fears by the Hong Kong government and the Chinese authorities were that the 20th anniversary of the return of Hong Kong to China would be marked by protests, these fears were unfounded; nobody was willing to sacrifice their future for the illusions of a few fools.
Nevertheless, the sentencing of Wong and co to prison terms caused a major uproar, with up to 200,000 people descending in the streets of Hong Kong for the last show of support to the kids.
Despite this last show of support, Wong and his co-accused ended in prison. After this last protest, the indecision and the hesitations on strategy by the headless “leaders” once again doomed the movement. Despite this, they tried again to rally for the next fight, trying to conserve the seats they had won at the byelections.
From the start, their attempt to run again for the election appeared to be a calvary. Initially, the candidates of “Demosisto” the fledgeling party of Wong (in particular Agnes Chow), were disqualified because of their avowed position in favour of self-determination. Demosisto then revised its charter in another ill-timed and stupid decision. Now, not only did they appear to be unwilling to stand by their principles, but on top of it, they failed to read the determination of the Hong Kong authority in stopping the childishness.
In the end, in an election marked by a low turnout, whereas the kids tried to make it a “referendum” about the Oathgate, the candidates supported by the kids lost two circumscriptions, barely maintaining a hold on the two others. The most marking defeat was probably the loss of Kowloon-West, a circumscription historically held by the pan-democrats. While ascribing the failure to a lack of “canvassing”, Edward Yiu Chung-yim the candidate in that circumscription also took full responsibility for the failure.
In a way, the end of the calvary was predictable. Those who tied their fate to that of the kids got also badly burned, leaving the city now firmly into Beijing’s hands. Other incidents such as the fake aggression invented by a pan-democrat politician, Howard Lam, also discredited the whole movement. Today, the Hongkongers just want to see their living conditions improve. The appointment of Carrie Lam, a less polarizing figure at the head of the government also helped to appease minds and hearts. Where Wong and co. failed was that they thought the Umbrella Movement was theirs to own. It was actually their parents and elders who descended then, to say that they did not want to see violence against their kids – and in no way to support either independence claims or even other weird propositions which the kids incorporated in their claims such as homosexual marriage. If anything, the mixup of social activism along with political demands definitely doomed the movement.