(Reuters) With China’s preferred candidate selected as Hong Kong’s next chief executive, another blow to the morale of the city’s democracy activists, their young leaders are taking a page from Beijing’s playbook and preparing for a long battle.
At the leafy campus of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, there is little sign of the fervour that drove thousands of students to stage the Umbrella Movement street protests that brought parts of the city to a standstill for months in 2014.
“We still all care about Hong Kong’s social issues, democracy, Beijing’s interference,” said Ceci Chow, a third-year nursing student, as she waited on campus beside a bronze statue of the ‘goddess of democracy’. But she concedes there might not be the same “driving force” for action.
Student union leaders like Cheryl Chu and Thomas Lee agree that the commitment is still there, but they doubt mass protests are the way to go, for now.
The Umbrella Movement ultimately failed to persuade Beijing to grant full democracy in elections for Chief Executive, so Carrie Lam will assume the post in July thanks to the backing last month of an electoral college packed with mostly Beijing loyalists.
In the run-up to Lam’s victory, student leaders eschewed public protests and opted instead to use social media, leaflets and street booths to present their case that the election was undemocratic.
“We need to look further in future, and look at how to slowly make the people close to us change a little. Only then will we feel that we can achieve something tangible in future,” said Lee.
Many activist leaders have been weighed down by legal battles. One day after Lam’s selection, nine were charged with public nuisance offences for their part in the protests, and more arrests could follow.
Victories in last September’s elections to the city’s legislature, when one in five voters backed younger candidates including Umbrella Movement leaders and self-determination advocates, rapidly turned sour when two newly elected legislators were disqualified. Beijing and a local court ruled Baggio Leung and Yau Wai-ching had not taken their oaths properly after inserting a dig at China.
The government has since sought to disqualify four more pro-democracy lawmakers for invalid oaths, while two others charged for inciting the Umbrella protests might be removed if they are jailed for over a month.