The European Union (EU) has called on the Hong Kong government to reconsider its decision to postpone the city’s election for its Legislative Council (LegCo).
“It is essential that the Legislative Council elections take place in an environment which is conducive to the exercise of democratic rights and freedoms as enshrined in the Hong Kong’s Basic Law,” stated Josep Borrell, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in a statement on behalf of the EU.
On July 31, Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing leader Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers granted under the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to delay the LegCo election previously scheduled for Sept. 6 by a year.
Lam claimed that the gatherings of voters on election day would harm public health amid a new wave of coronavirus infections caused by the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) virus in the city.
According to the Hong Kong government’s statistics, the city saw on average about 116 new infections daily from July 21 to Aug. 3. For the seven days ending Aug. 3, there were a total of 811 new cases recorded.
As of Aug. 3, Hong Kong has a total of 3,590 known cases and 37 deaths due to the virus in a city of about 7.5 million.
Borrell added: “The proposed postponement by one year of the elections to the Legislative Council through recourse to emergency powers, would delay the renewal of its democratic mandate and call into question the exercise of the democratic rights and freedoms guaranteed under Hong Kong’s Basic Law.”
The Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, is meant to guarantee the city a high degree of autonomy under a model known as “one country, two systems” for at least 50 years after the city’s sovereignty was handed over from Britain to China in 1997.
Lam’s decision to postpone the election has drawn sharp criticism inside and outside of Hong Kong.
On Aug. 2, the Hong Kong Bar Association (HKBA) issued a statement expressing its “grave concern” about the delay.
“The HKBA considers that there are serious doubts about the legal and evidential basis of the Government’s decision,” according to the statement.
The HKBA added that the city government “did not consult with relevant experts on the appropriate balance to be struck between protecting public health and protecting the constitutional right of Hong Kong residents to participate in elections.”
The association has also questioned why the election was postponed for a year, instead of weeks or months.
London-based NGO Hong Kong Watch said that the election delay was “totally unnecessary” and an “assault on fundamental freedom,” in an analysis report published on July 31.
The report pointed to several countries, including South Korea, Poland, and Singapore, all of which recently held elections despite their number of their total COVID-19 infection cases being higher than that of Hong Kong.
Borrell also raised concerns about the recent mass disqualification of pro-democracy candidates, including incumbent lawmakers “previously democratically elected by the people of Hong Kong.”
The disqualification “weakens Hong Kong’s international reputation as a free and open society” since “the protection of civil and political rights is a fundamental part” of the “one country, two systems” model, the press release read.
“The EU calls on the Hong Kong authorities to reconsider these decisions,” it added.
The Foreign Office responds to the postponement of Hong Kong’s LegCo elections.
Read the full statement ⬇️https://t.co/DoCm25le7R
— Foreign Office 🇬🇧 (@foreignoffice) July 31, 2020
The UK Foreign Office also expressed concerns, calling on Beijing to “reassure the people of Hong Kong and the world that elections will be held as soon as possible.”
On July 30, just one day before the announcement of the election delay, the Hong Kong government disqualified 12 candidates—among them four incumbent lawmakers Alvin Yeung, Dennis Kwok, and Kwok Ka-ki, who are members of the pro-democracy Civic Party, and Kenneth Leung. Lam’s government also disqualified Joshua Wong, iconic figure from the 2014 Umbrella Movement.
Freedom House condemns the ongoing suppression of rights in Hong Kong, including the arrest of student activists, disqualification of candidates, and one-year postponement of elections. https://t.co/6x5dWWtzVJ
— Freedom House (@freedomhouse) July 31, 2020
Washington-based nonprofit Freedom House condemned the mass disqualification and election delay in a statement on July 31.
“Given the ongoing crackdown on pro-democracy voices and the fact that COVID-19–related deaths in Hong Kong remain comparatively low, 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,” Freedom House wrote.