HONG KONG - Joshua Wong, the 23-year-old poster boy for Hong Kong's ongoing anti-government protests, said Thursday that he is the only candidate for upcoming district elections who has been barred from running.
Wong was defiant as he parked himself in front of the city's Legislative Council complex to announce Thursday that he is the only one of 1,000 aspirants running for the 479-seat District Council who has yet to be approved.
He said he was given no explanation for the move. Wong said that when he visited the Electoral Affairs Commission on Thursday to learn more about why he was not approved to run in the Nov. 24 poll he was told that the officer responsible was out sick. In a statement, the commission confirmed that the officer is on sick leave "until further notice" and would be replaced.
"It is unexpected and unprecedented in Hong Kong's election history, and I notice some strange move by the government this time," he said, adding, "I think how the announcement, or the arrangement, of the Elections Affairs Committee of replacing the returning officer will just prove that it's not the decision of the internal coordination of the civil service — it's the interference from Beijing to prompt a delay and to block me to run for office, which will just prove that the election process in Hong Kong isn't fair at all."
When he announced his candidacy in September, Wong warned that any attempts to interfere could fan the flames of anti-government protests, which have filled Hong Kong's streets for four months.
Protesters initially marched to oppose a controversial extradition bill that would have allowed arrested and charged Hong Kong residents to be tried in China. That bill was formally withdrawn this week, but in the interim the leaderless protests grew and evolved into the "five demands" — which include amnesties for protesters, an investigation into police violence, and universal suffrage.
The district council is the most democratic government body in Hong Kong, with almost all its members directly elected. Only half of the members of the higher Legislative Council are directly elected by geographic constituencies.
Wong first came to prominence in 2016 when he co-founded the Demosisto party. He has since been arrested and jailed numerous times, and other Demosisto members seeking political office have been previously disqualified for their support of self-determination for Hong Kong, a Chinese city with its own semi-autonomous government.
In September, Wong testified before the U.S. Congress and urged lawmakers to support the Hong Kong Human Rights and Democracy Act — legislation to, among other things, impose sanctions on those responsible for human rights violations in Hong Kong. Lawmakers unanimously passed the act earlier this month. Pro-Beijing lawmakers in Hong Kong slammed the act as interference in Hong Kong's affairs.