Hong Kong yesterday delayed key Legislative Council elections scheduled for September for one year due to a recent surge in COVID-19 cases, fueling more outrage among the territory’s opposition.
“Delaying the Legislative Council election held every four years is a very difficult decision,” Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) said at a news conference. “But in order to curb the pandemic, ensure public safety and citizens’ health, and meanwhile ensure the election is held under an open and fair environment, this decision is necessary.”
Hong Kong yesterday reported 121 COVID-19 infections after recording its highest tally yet on Thursday.
Lam said she was invoking an emergency powers ordinance to delay the vote to Sept. 5 next year and that the government’s decision to do so had the support of China’s central government.
She said deploying as many as 34,000 election volunteers across more than 600 polling stations to assist millions of voters was too dangerous under the circumstances.
“It poses a great risk of infection,” she said.
The Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said in a statement that the decision to delay the election “reflects a highly responsible attitude towards the life and health of Hong Kong citizens. It is very necessary, reasonable and legal, and the central government fully understands and agrees.”
The postponement caps off a week that saw Hong Kong’s government draw new red lines on how much dissent it would tolerate — and stands to intensify concerns about the preservation of basic freedoms in the territory.
Pro-democracy advocates had hoped to ride the momentum of a landslide victory in last year’s District Council vote to an unprecedented majority in the legislature.
Opposition lawmaker Fernando Cheung (張超雄) said the delay and Thursday’s disqualification of leading Hong Kong democracy campaigners as candidates amounted to “nothing less than election fraud.”
“The pandemic was used purely as an excuse. The real reason for the delay is that the CCP [Chinese Communist Party] is afraid it will lose by a landslide, much like what happened in the district elections in November last year,” he said. “This is blatant repression and the decision itself is unconstitutional.”
About 55 percent of people answering a survey said they believed the Legislative Council elections should go ahead as planned on Sept. 6 despite the pandemic, said the Hong Kong Public Opinion Program, which polled 8,805 respondents from Wednesday to Thursday.
The delay’s biggest effect would be to increase suspicion about the credibility of the elections, said Ivan Choy (蔡子強), a senior lecturer at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
“We know that hygiene is one of the important considerations,” Choy said. However, “people will have suspicions, especially because we have the landslide victory of the democrats in the last District Council elections.”
In other news, Hong Kong Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung (梁卓然) has resigned, citing differences with Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng (鄭若驊), a person with direct knowledge of the matter said yesterday.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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