“Since January, we have been fighting the pandemic for seven months. This pandemic has taken a heavy toll on our economy, ”she said. “Some people said if I didn’t postpone the election they could take legal action… while others said if you postpone them you have to explain clearly.”
Lam said she was invoking the Colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to postpone elections from September 6 this year to September 5 next year, and her decision was fully supported by the government. central.
Under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, each Legco term could only last four years, the chief executive noted, which would raise legal questions.
To resolve them, she submitted an emergency report to the Beijing State Council, which informed it that the central government would ask China’s highest legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, to make a decision on pending legal and constitutional issues.
This would mark the second time in a year that Lam has invoked such powers, first introduced almost a century ago under British colonial rule. She used the law last October to ban the wearing of masks by protesters hiding their identity during anti-government protests.
Lam cited examples of other governments postponing elections, saying more than 60 countries had done so since July 15 and only 49 countries had conducted their scheduled elections.
“In Britain, an emergency law was passed to postpone an election in May for one year,” she said, adding that an Australian election had also been postponed for 12 months.
“If we continue our election, millions of voters will visit the polling stations on the same day. The risk of infection would be very high. “
Lam noted that despite the preventative measures, new coronavirus infections since July had increased by 1852, a 140% increase from the first six months.
“We are particularly concerned about the situation in the retirement homes for the elderly… and there is no indication that the situation in the city is improving any further,” she said. “The situation is most critical since January 2020, as the virus will continue to spread in the city and the risk of large-scale community epidemics increases every day.”
Regarding the logistical challenge in the midst of a public health crisis, Lam said the government would need to recruit 34,000 election officials and large crowds would be on the streets on election day.
She noted that registered voters living across the border in mainland China could not vote with quarantine measures preventing movement.
Social distancing measures also made it difficult for candidates to continue their campaign, she added.
His announcement came after the two-week nomination period for candidates closed at 5 p.m. and a dozen opposition hopefuls were disqualified on Thursday.
The ruling raises a series of legal questions, including whether council sessions could be extended and for how long, and whether those disqualified would still act as lawmakers.
In a statement released earlier, 22 pan-Democrat lawmakers, including four barred from running for another term, said Legislative Council elections were a central part of Hong Kong’s constitutional foundation.
“According to the Legco ordinance, the poll can only be postponed for 14 days,” the statement said. “To report it [beyond that] is to trigger a constitutional crisis in the city.
“After a year of democratic movement, it is urgent that Legco undergo a baptism of public opinion, which is the root of the governance of the city … The government and the whole of society must do everything possible to ensure that general elections can be held as scheduled. “
The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported on Wednesday that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will meet again in Beijing from August 8 to 11 to discuss a series of laws. No Hong Kong-related item has yet been placed on the agenda. The opposition also accused the government of trying to deny residents their right to vote.
“Hong Kong’s constitutional and legal frameworks would not allow this kind of manipulation,” the statement said. “It was also suggested that the National People’s Congress would intervene … which would mean the total collapse of our constitutional order.”
The camp noted that more than 60 countries or regions around the world had successfully held elections during the pandemic, either on schedule or with brief delay. Hong Kong officials should learn from their examples, he said.
The postponement came a day after the opposition camp suffered a heavy blow with 12 members, including veteran and moderate politicians, whose candidacies were struck down by returning officers, while the government warned that others could be disqualified.
At least 22 other opposition hopefuls are still awaiting verdicts from returning officers on their demands.
In letters to candidates Thursday, election officials cited the city’s new national security law and previous calls by pan-Democrats on foreign governments to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong as reasons to ban four incumbent lawmakers – the civic party Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu. , Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, as well as accounting lawmaker Kenneth Leung.
Other disqualified opposition figures included Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Ventus Lau Wing-hong, Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam and Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, as well as district councilors Cheng Tat-hung, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai and Fergus Leung Fong. -wai.
Returning officers cited similar reasons for their invalidation and their earlier vow to defeat the government budget and other bills, if the bloc won an unprecedented majority in the legislature.
The government has warned that more candidates could suffer the same fate. But a source familiar with the matter said no further disqualifications would be announced on Friday. “But the returning office is empowered to do so after the nomination period ends on Friday,” the source said.
Additional reporting by Lilian Cheng