The Hong Kong government may postpone the 2020 Legislative Council election amid the current wave of coronavirus infections, according to local media citing sources.
The Hong Kong Economic Times and Citizen News reported that Chief Executive Carrie Lam is set to hold a special meeting with the Executive Council on Tuesday and may announce that the race will be postponed.
On Saturday, former Legislative Council president Jasper Tsang suggested that the election could be delayed for at least a year. He said that, during the coronavirus outbreak, it would be difficult to fully implement anti-epidemic measures and maintain social distancing.
Public gathering restrictions – which were tightened on Monday to limit groups gatherings to two – would also make it difficult to hold campaign activities, he said.
Tsang – the founding chair of the pro-Beijing party DAB and former head of the legislature – said he believed the government would have “no choice” but to reschedule. He said the new term could start on October 1, 2021, while the chief executive could instruct the legislative president to call emergency meetings to be attended by incumbent lawmakers to fulfil the duties of the legislature.
Meanwhile, Beijing loyalist Tam Yiu-chung said last Monday that the 14-day compulsory quarantine could prevent some Hongkongers who live in the Greater Bay Area from casting their vote. He said the government should not rule out the possibility of delaying the poll.
From July 13 to 26, there have been 1,030 additional local cases of Covid-19 – 492 of them had unknown sources of infection and 538 had epidemiological links to other confirmed cases. The city’s death toll now stands at 22 with 2,778 infections.
Earlier in July, the pro-democracy camp held a primary election which saw over 600,000 Hongkongers take part. Democrats also swept the polls at last year’s district council elections – winning all but one district – following a year of pro-democracy protests and unrest.
At a press conference on July 19, Lam said that – up until that moment – the government had no plans to change the election date: “The election is a very serious matter, amendments cannot be made casually. I can only say at this moment, because no one can tell me how the outbreak will develop next.”
Tanya Chan, the convenor of the pro-democracy camp, wrote to Lam last Friday demanding that the government reveal the election arrangements. She asked whether the authorities had prepared a third venue for ballot counting if both AsiaWorld-Expo and the Kowloon Bay International Trade & Exhibition Centre – the original and back-up counting stations – were being used as community isolation facilities.
She also urged Lam to impose a full lockdown on the city, citing medical experts who said arrivals who were exempt from quarantine might be the source of the city’s third wave of outbreak: “The Legislative Council election and fighting the epidemic are very serious matters and cannot be taken lightly… shut the borders immediately to curb the outbreak at its source,” Chan wrote.
According to Section 44 of the Legislative Council Ordinance, the chief executive may direct the postponement of a general election if they deem it is likely to be obstructed or seriously affected by a riot, open violence or any danger to public health or safety. The election could be delayed for no more than 14 days.
Activist Joshua Wong tweeted that “[u]sing [the] pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election is definitely a lie,” adding that government could have closed the border to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Singapore, France, Ireland and South Korea are among a dozen-odd countries that have successfully taken measures this year to carry out elections during the epidemic.
A press officer for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau told HKFP that they were preparing for the election “and shall closely keep in touch with the Food and Health Bureau and the Centre for Health Protection to monitor the development of the epidemic and formulate various plans.”
The Electoral Affairs Commission told HKFP that it “is closely monitoring the development of the epidemic and its impacts on the election. In view of the severity of the recent epidemic situation, the EAC will listen to advice from the Government and health experts.”