The Civic Party, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy groups, voted to dissolve it over a leadership vacuum, after its members were expelled from local councils and charged under Beijing’s national security law.
The party, nicknamed the “Party of Lawyers”, was founded in 2006 by professional elites – mostly from the legal sector – who wanted to strengthen democracy and civil society in Hong Kong.
The party was among the last few opposition groups. Political dissent is banned under the 2020 National Security Law, and Hong Kong’s civil society has been forced underground or driven into exile.
On Saturday, 30 of the 31 members of the party’s extraordinary general assembly voted voluntarily to end operations — a process that will take about a month to complete.
Its president, Alan Leung, said, “After all the final formalities, the Civil Society Party will vanish from the earth.”
The 65-year-old party co-founder is a well-known pro-democracy figure for Hong Kongers who came of age after the city’s 1997 handover from Britain.
In 2007, Leung was – and still is – the only candidate not pre-vetted by China to join the city’s chief executive election. This position was chosen by Beijing, and it was predictably lost.
From its inception, the party aspired to become a “ruling” force, rather than retreat “merely into opposition”.
At the height of its popularity, the Civic Party was the second-largest group in the opposition camp – taking six seats in Hong Kong’s semi-elected legislature in 2012.
“We’ve got our eyes fixed on the standard of democracy,” Leung said in the party’s farewell address on Saturday. “History runs in circles… While the Civic Party has not accomplished what we set out to do, there is a time for everything.”
Since 2019, when the financial hub was turned upside down by massive, and at times violent, pro-democracy protests, six key party members have faced criminal convictions for participating in demonstrations and trying to raise money for protesters.
They also participated in unofficial political primaries within the pro-democracy camp—which was seen as a national security risk—and four of them were charged with “conspiracy to subvert”.
By the end of 2021, the Civic Party had lost all five seats in Hong Kong’s Legislative Council and more than 30 seats in democratically elected district assemblies, as authorities imposed Beijing’s “patriots only” principle for public office.
Former founding member Albert Lai told Agence France-Presse that the party’s dissolution “can be seen as a symbol of the end of the national democracy movement in Hong Kong. But the failure does not mean that the movement was meaningless.”
“Many people were mobilized and a great deal of social capital was accumulated during the process, which will be beneficial for the next chapter of Hong Kong.”