Hong Kong Chief Executive Postpones Election by One Year in Unprecedented Move

Hong Kong Chief Executive Postpones Election by One Year in Unprecedented Move
Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, wearing a face mask following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, attends a news conference in Hong Kong, China on July 31, 2020. (Lam Yik/Reuters)

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Carrie Lam, postponed the 2020 Hong Kong Legislative Council election for a year in an unprecedented move, executing the decision through Hong Kong Emergency Law.

Lam said she invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to hold off the vote, adding the move is backed by Beijing. China’s rubber-stamp legislate will decide how to fill the legislative vacuum caused by election postponement, she said.

“The Legislative Council election of 2020 will come to an end as the emergency law takes effect,” stated Erick Tsang, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs.

The call was announced during a government press conference held Friday night. Lam cites a local surge in CCP virus cases as the reason for the one-year postponement. No specific date was provided aside from the notice of the delay.

“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult one I have had to make in the past seven months,” she said at the press conference.

Lam also said the gathering of millions of staff and voters, including vulnerable elderly people, on polling day threatened the city’s public health amid a CCP virus. She also cited concern for alleged Hong Kong permanent residents stranded in mainland China and abroad due to travel restrictions, saying it would be “impossible” for them to return to Hong Kong for the election.

Friday marked the tenth straight day of triple-digit increases in COVID cases in Hong Kong, citing 121 novel cases.

AsiaWorld-Expo, the original ballot-counting venue for elections, is being used as a community isolation facility. As is the back-up counting station, the Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Centre.

The announcement is a huge blow to pro-democracy parties, who are aiming for majority control in the city’s legislative council. Public opinion of pro-Beijing politicians has nosedived after the implementation of the National Security Law.

The postponement trails a mass disqualification of key pro-democracy candidates running for a seat in the upcoming Legislative Council election. Candidates were disqualified after being deemed unfit to uphold Hong Kong basic law or loyalty to Hong Kong’s government under China.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Thursday urged the regime not to delay the elections.

“They must proceed on time,” Pompeo said in a radio interview. “The people of Hong Kong deserve to have their voice represented by the elected officials that they choose in those elections ... If they destroy that, if they take that down, it will be another marker that will simply prove that the Chinese Communist Party has now made Hong Kong just another communist-run city.

Benedict Rogers, who co-founded the human rights group Hong Kong Watch, said the pandemic was only an excuse for authorities to curb freedoms.

“First they disqualify democrats. Then they postpone elections. This isn’t about COVID19,” he wrote on Twitter. “This is about the CCP’s fear of the ballot box.”

Annie Boyajian, director of advocacy at Freedom House, said that the election’s postponement was troubling.

“While public safety is important, postponement should be a last resort, supported by law and a broad consensus among political stakeholders and independent experts,” Boyajian said in a statement.

“The international community is rightly concerned that this postponement is in fact a political maneuver designed to dampen voter enthusiasm, provide additional time to disqualify or prosecute pro-democracy candidates, and quash dissent.”

Cathy He and Eva Fu contributed to this report.