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Hong Kong election delayed after opposition candidates barred

Carrie Lam calls decision ‘necessary’ after spike in coronavirus cases, but critics say this is an excuse for the government to avoid a humiliating defeat

Adam Withnall
Asia Editor
Friday 31 July 2020 12:06 BST
Hong Kong postpones elections, citing virus

Hong Kong‘s leader Carrie Lam has announced the postponement of the city’s key assembly elections, citing an ongoing spike in coronavirus cases.

The election was due to take place on 6 September, and had been seen as an opportunity for pro-democracy parties to win a historic majority amid public dissatisfaction at a new security law imposed by Beijing.

Ms Lam’s government said the vote would be delayed for a year, and that the Chinese national parliament would need to decide on how to fill the resulting gap in the legislative programme.

The chief executive called it the most difficult decision she had had to make since the start of the pandemic, which has seen her government invoke colonial-era emergency rule.

The decision, she said, was a “necessary” one to “protect public health, people’s lives and guarantee fairness of the election”.

“We have 3 million voters going out in one day across Hong Kong, such flow of people would cause high risk of infection,” she said.

Once held up as an example for its success in controlling the Covid-19 outbreak that began in mainland China, Hong Kong’s daily reported cases have risen from single digits a month ago to more than 100 in each of the past 10 days.

It has introduced new measures this week including the mandatory use of face coverings in public places, but its outbreak still ranks far below that of many similarly sized cities around the world – fewer than 3,300 cases and just 27 deaths.

Even before the postponement of the election was confirmed, opposition figures had cautioned that any such move would be treated with suspicion.

On Thursday, the Hong Kong government had already barred 12 influential opposition figures from running for seats on the city’s Legislative Council.

The 12 included the prominent young activist Joshua Wong, who said that he would “doubt the veracity of any coronavirus delay” to the September vote.

“Using pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election is definitely a lie because that’s the tactics for Beijing to prevent their landside [loss] during the voting day,” Wong wrote on Twitter.

Opposition politician Tanya Chan told BBC News she suspected pro-government politicians were more concerned about “their own election prospects” rather than “the severity of the pandemic”.

Ms Lam pre-empted such criticisms on Friday, saying that “this postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations”.

The vote would have been the first official test of public opinion since the introduction of the new security law, which bans secession and subversion of Chinese rule and which critics say will stifle the relative autonomy Hong Kong has enjoyed from Beijing in the 23 years since it was returned from British rule.

The law, enacted after months of political protests against the encroachment of that autonomy, has seen at least one influential pro-democracy party disbanded and some activists have fled abroad.

Much of the law is considered to be tailor-made to target and criminalise those leading the protests. China’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office said the law would be a “sharp sword” hanging over the heads of a “tiny number of people” endangering national security.

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