The Hong Kong government postponed the legislative elections in September for a year, saying it was necessary amid rising coronavirus infections.
Hong Kong is currently experiencing a spike in Covid-19 infections and reported 121 new cases on Friday.
However, the opposition accused the government of using the pandemic as a pretext to prevent people from voting.
On Thursday, the government banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from standing for election.
Opposition activists had hoped for a majority in the Legislative Council (LegCo) in the September poll, capitalizing on anger over Beijing’s imposition of a controversial national security law in Hong Kong and fearing that the territorial freedoms are not eroded.
Pro-democracy candidates had made unprecedented strides in last year’s district council elections, winning 17 of 18 councils.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam said she would invoke emergency powers to postpone the election, calling it “the most difficult decision I’ve made in the past seven months.”
“This postponement is made entirely for reasons of public security, there were no political considerations,” she said.
How serious is the pandemic in Hong Kong?
Hong Kong has had more than 100 new cases per day, for 10 consecutive days.
Overall numbers are still lower than many other places – but the spike comes after Hong Kong appears to have contained the outbreak, with weeks of little to no local infections.
Today she is experiencing what has been described as a “third wave” of infections, and on Wednesday Ms Lam said the city was on the brink of a “large-scale epidemic” which could lead to ” collapse ”of hospitals.
Health experts told the BBC that with the reintroduction of social distancing measures the infection rate appears to have slowed and they hope Hong Kong will return to near zero local infections within four to six weeks.
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The city has introduced tough new measures to tackle the virus, banning gatherings of more than two people.
What is the argument for postponing the election?
The territory has recorded more than 3,200 confirmed infections and 27 deaths from the virus.
Ms Lam said the Hong Kong pandemic was in “its worst situation since January” and “as the community spreads further, the risk of a large-scale epidemic will increase.”
She said that with 4.4 million registered voters in Hong Kong, the election would involve “a large-scale rally and immense risk of infection,” while social distancing measures would prevent candidates from soliciting.
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She also said holding elections in September would pose a particular risk to elderly voters and that Hong Kong has many registered voters in mainland China and abroad who would not be able to participate in the elections as long as border quarantine measures are said to be in place. .
What is the argument against the postponement of the poll?
Opposition politicians say that under local election laws, elections can only be postponed for 14 days, and that a longer delay “would trigger a constitutional crisis in the city.”
MK Tanya Chan said she suspected pro-government politicians were more concerned with “their own electoral prospects” than “the severity of the pandemic”.
Some experts have suggested that measures could be put in place to make elections safer, such as reducing waiting times at polling stations – and that a one-year delay is not necessary.
What have other governments done?
At least 68 countries or territories postponed elections due to Covid-19, while 49 places held elections as scheduled, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
During her press conference, Ms Lam argued that many governments have also postponed elections for a year, including the mayoral elections in London and local elections in New South Wales in Australia.
His comparison has been questioned by reporters, who said the outbreak in Hong Kong was not as severe. London currently has a total of around 35,000 cases of Covid-19, compared to 3,200 in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, in Australia, a by-election in Victoria went as planned in March, as did a federal by-election in New South Wales.
Singapore held its general election earlier this month – and had its highest turnout in recent years, says Eugene Tan, law professor and political commentator at Singapore Management University.
“There is never a good time for an election during a pandemic,” he says, but the vote was taken with several safety measures in place and “demonstrates that it is possible to protect public health then even that people exercise their democratic right to vote. “
How does the Legislative Council work?
The Legislative Council – or LegCo – helps make and change the laws of Hong Kong.
It is made up of 70 seats – but only 35 of those seats are directly voted on by the public.
Another 30 seats represent “functional constituencies” – these are voted by smaller groups representing special interests, primarily businesses, banks and commerce. Historically, these sectors have been largely pro-Beijing.
The last five seats are made up of district councilors elected by the public to sit on LegCo.
This system, where only a portion of LegCo’s advisers are chosen by the public, has been called undemocratic by critics, but supporters of the system say it helps avoid populism and protects Hong Kong’s business interests. .