Influential Hong Kong pro-democracy student group Scholarism announces break-up

Student group Scholarism confirmed their immediate disbandment as leader Joshua Wong (centre) is set to form a political party next month.
Student group Scholarism confirmed their immediate disbandment as leader Joshua Wong (centre) is set to form a political party next month.PHOTO: REUTERS

Prominent student group Scholarism confirmed on Sunday (March 20) that it was disbanding with immediate effect, as leader Joshua Wong and several core members plan to form a political party to take part in parliamentary elections in September.

"Scholarism is going to be suspended from operations, though this does not imply that we are to distance ourselves from any student movement in Hong Kong," group spokesman Agnes Chow said at a press conference.

"We are much keener to take up a greater variety of social responsibilities in the near future," she added.

She said some of Scholarism's members would establish a political party in April, while others would form a new student group within the following six months.

The latter would get about half of the HK$1.5 million (S$262,862) in donations Scholarism had received, Chow said.

The other half would go to a trust fund to provide legal assistance to those affiliated with the group. None of the donations would be used for Mr Wong's new party, Radio Television Hong Kong (RTHK) reported.

Scholarism came to prominence in 2012 after it organised a successful student protest in 2012 that upended government plans to introduce national education in schools seen as whitewashing history and being pro-Beijing.

The group grabbed global attention in 2014 for helping to spearhead the Occupy pro-democracy movement that brought the city to a standstill.

Sunday's announcement confirmed rumours that Mr Wong, 19, would disband the group he founded to set up a new party next month focused on “localism”, in accordance with Scholarism's rule that members cannot be affiliated with political parties.

Scholarism’s support among Hong Kong’s students has been eroded by the rise of radical localist groups which are openly contemptuous of the Occupy organisers’ largely peaceful tactics and disavowal of an agenda to pursue the city's independence from China. 

Mr Wong’s plan to start a new party is a response to the sentiment, a source close to Mr Wong told The Straits Times last week.

Mr Wong has said it would push for a “self-determination referendum” to allow people to decide if they want to separate from mainland China come 2047, which is when Beijing’s promise to grant Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under the “one country, two systems” framework lapse.

Mr Wong's party is expected to include former Scholarism leaders Oscar Lam, Agnes Chow, and Nathan Law, secretary-general of the Hong Kong Federation of Students.

The party plans to run in the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections in September.