A top adviser to Hong Kong’s leader has urged the government to consider online voting and other alternatives to postponing the Legislative Council elections, fearing delaying the polls would be politically risky and could hamper investor confidence in the city.
Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah’s warning came as the pro-Beijing camp continued to call on officials to explore pushing back the September 6 elections because of the Covid-19 crisis, while the opposition – seeking a historic majority in the legislature – has said voting should go ahead as planned.
People’s Daily, the Communist Party’s mouthpiece, meanwhile, accused opposition politicians of trying to use the Legco polls as “a weapon to seize power”, saying in the commentary that they had colluded with foreign forces to organise an election primary, which was held earlier this month to decide who should get the opposition ticket to run in September.
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Speaking on a radio show on Wednesday, Tong said the government should consider alternatives to postponing the elections such as allowing the Hong Kong electorate to vote from outside the city.
“Overseas voting – many countries have this option – or online voting, or even extending voting hours, all of these could be viable alternatives,” he said, adding it was possible to stagger voting by age group to avoid large gatherings.
Tong, who serves on Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s cabinet, said the elections should be postponed if that was the approach agreed by health experts, but otherwise it would be difficult to find a legal basis for a delay.
“According to the Legco Ordinance, the chief executive can delay the election by up to 14 days, but whether this will be enough is hard to predict,” he added.
The senior counsel warned that it could be too controversial to postpone the elections using other laws, such as the Emergency Regulations Ordinance or the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance.
“I do not think the political risk is worth it,” he said. “It could trigger political arguments and legal challenges.”
Asked how the international community would react if the elections were postponed, Tong said: “There will certainly be someone who takes the opportunity to initiate a smear campaign and accuse the government of limiting the voting rights of citizens.
“I think these political issues cannot be ignored because they will also weaken investor confidence.”
In its commentary published on Wednesday, People’s Daily said the opposition was not interested in public service.
“In the eyes of the faction with the ‘if we burn, you burn with us’ mantra, running in elections has nothing to do with serving voters, but seizing the ‘constitutional weapon of mass destruction’ to escalate the ‘black violence’ and achieve their ultimate goal of … usurping power,” the commentary said.
“There are signs indicating that external forces are interfering in the election without any restraint. [US Secretary of State] Mike Pompeo congratulated the opposition shortly after results of the pan-democrats’ primary were announced and then the US signed the Hong Kong Autonomy Act into law,” the commentary added, referring to the legislation to penalise mainland Chinese and local officials deemed to have trampled on Hongkongers’ rights.
Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam, one of the 15 candidates backed by opposition activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung, said the government should examine ways to make sure the elections could proceed.
“Many countries go ahead with elections under the Covid-19 pandemic. If the government hasn’t studied the possibilities and measures but just directly postponed the elections, it would be crystal clear that its intention is to help the election prospects of the pro-establishment camp,” Ho said.
Ho, who officially signed up on Wednesday for the elections, said every pan-democrat who publicly opposed the national security law, which Beijing imposed on Hong Kong last month, was at risk of disqualification.
But she insisted that she would still veto the Hong Kong government’s budget and “resist at all levels” in Legco with her comrades.
Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung and Tony Cheung
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This article Hong Kong elections: Carrie Lam adviser urges government to explore online voting to avoid delaying Legislative Council 2020 polls over Covid-19 first appeared on South China Morning Post