Hong Kong postpones election, citing coronavirus fears

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday announced that she is delaying the election planned for September 6 because of mounting concern about the coronavirus pandemic. She said the election would be held on September 5, 2021.

"Today I announce the most difficult decision in the last seven months ... to postpone the Legislative Council election," Lam told reporters.

"The epidemic is posing a serious risk to Hong Kong. The election is unique, the biggest in Hong Kong," Lam said, adding that going through with the election would pose a risk to a great number of people.

A group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement accusing the Hong Kong administration of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.

"Our resistance will continue on and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle," Joshua Wong, one of the city's most prominent pro-democracy figures, told reporters. "They can't kill us all."

A political and legal controversy

DW correspondent Phoebe Kong said the pro-democracy activists believed the pandemic was being used as an excuse to delay the election.

"They said this was a clampdown on the opposition movement," Kong said. "The postponement of the election will spark a huge not only political and also legal controversy, including how the local parliament is going to run."

Hong Kong has seen a surge in infections since the beginning of July but has still recorded a relatively low tally of infections overall.

The pro-democracy opposition scored an overwhelming victory in low-level elections last year and was hoping to capitalize on that momentum to win a majority in the directly elected part of the legislature. Such a majority would give opposition members the ability to slow bills from passing.

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The move comes after opposition candidates — including Wong — were disqualified from standing earlier this week. The exclusion has been criticized as a political purge.

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The opposition had expected to make gains on the back of widespread resentment about the Chinese Communist Party's imposition of a controversial new security law. The legislation — to punish what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers — was widely criticized by opponents and Western countries as damaging to citizens' rights.

Among the provisions was the possibility for the Hong Kong government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. The law was imposed on June 30, since when there has been a marked crackdown on opposition activity.

Critics say the new law is inconsistent with freedoms that were promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Supporters say it will restore some stability to Hong Kong after a year of protests.

rc/sms (AP, Reuters)