Hong Kong delays Legislative Council elections as coronavirus cases rise

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A child and a woman wearing face masks are seen walking along a street July 27, 2020 in Hong Kong, China.Vernon Yuen | NurPhoto | Getty Images

Hong Kong’s legislative council elections will be postponed for a year, city chief Carrie Lam said on Friday amid a new spike in coronavirus cases.The vote was originally scheduled to take place on September 6, but will now take place on September 5, 2021, according to Lam. She said the central government supported the decision and it was taken to protect people’s health.

“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I have had to make in the past seven months,” Lam said at a press conference, according to the Associated Press.

“We want to ensure fairness and public safety and health, and we need to ensure that elections are conducted in an open, fair and impartial manner. This decision is therefore essential, ”she said.

As of July 30, authorities reported 149 more cases of Covid-19, bringing the city’s total to at least 3,151, according to the city’s health department.

Hong Kong was initially praised for its response to the pandemic and was able to avoid widespread lockdowns imposed by many countries to stem the spread of the disease. However, the coronavirus has reappeared and confirmed cases have reached new daily highs in recent weeks.

The postponement of the election came after authorities in Hong Kong announced Thursday that 12 pro-democracy candidates had been disqualified from running in the next election. Among them were a high-profile activist, Joshua Wong, and sitting lawmakers Dennis Kwok and Alvin Yeung.

According to Hong Kong law, an election can be postponed if the city’s general manager believes it is likely to be “obstructed, disrupted, undermined or seriously affected by riots or open violence or any health hazard. and public safety ”. Voting is usually required to take place within 14 days of the initial date, but the city chief also has the power to make bylaws in “cases of emergency or public danger.”

The disqualification of pro-democracy candidates drew criticism abroad, including British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, who criticized the move.

In a statement posted on the UK government website, Raab said it was “clear that they have been disqualified because of their political views, undermining the integrity” of a country, two systems “and to the rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Hong Kong Joint Declaration and Basic Program. Law. “

Hong Kong has been governed by the “one country, two systems” policy since the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997. This framework grants Chinese territory a largely separate economic and legal system and allows those who live there limited electoral rights.

Rumors of a postponement of the election were already turning even before the announcement.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged Hong Kong to proceed with the elections as scheduled.

Following local media reports of a possible delay, pro-democracy activist Wong said on Twitter that “using (the) pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election is definitely a lie.”

He said hygiene measures can be stepped up to reduce the risk of infection during voting.

The government reimposed social distancing rules and tightened restrictions further this week. The measures were more severe than those introduced when the health crisis first appeared at the start of the year.

Catering services were suspended and gatherings of more than two people were banned in late July, while face masks were made mandatory in all public places.

“But the (government) only knows how to interfere with elections that were previously free and fair, either by disqualifying my candidacy or by calling off the elections,” Wong said on Twitter.

The September election was reportedly the city’s first since its controversial national security law came into effect at the end of June. Beijing said the law was supposed to ban secession, subversion of state power, terrorism and foreign interference, but critics feared it was being used to crush dissent.

An unofficial primary in July would have seen more than 600,000 people running for token votes, according to Reuters, which cited the opposition camp.

Anyone found guilty of an offense under the new national security legislation cannot stand for election to legislative council or district councils.

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