Pro-Beijing politicians cited the risk of Covid-19 to call for the postponement of Hong Kong’s Legislative Council elections, a day after the city’s leader said the polls would go ahead as scheduled in early September.
Tam Yiu-chung, the city’s sole delegate to China’s top legislative body, on Monday questioned why officials had not considered the possibility of postponing the vote.
“There are only 50 days left. How can the government promise it can get the pandemic under control in 50 days?” he said. “If there is another big outbreak after the elections, how can our society and economy survive?”
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Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Sunday said there was currently no change in the plans to hold the polls on September 6. “Elections are a very serious matter and cannot be amended casually. But I can only say at this moment, as no one can tell how the epidemic will develop,” she said.
Hong Kong recorded 73 new Covid-19 infections on Monday and infectious disease experts warned a citywide curfew might be necessary if the latest wave continued to grow.
Tam, former chairman of the city’s largest pro-government party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB), dismissed the idea the camp feared another defeat – after an unprecedented loss in last November’s district council elections.
“I’m just afraid of Hong Kong being the loser if another outbreak occurs,” he said.
DAB candidate Joe Lai Wing-ho, who is running in the Kowloon East constituency, was also concerned about the coronavirus.
“I’ve collected 100 nominations and signed up for the elections. But Kowloon East has been badly hit [by Covid-19] recently, I don’t want my volunteers to take so much risk,” he said.
The camp’s demands came as pro-Beijing politician Lo Man-tuen, formerly a member of China’s top political advisory body, wrote in a newspaper commentary that under Beijing’s sweeping new national security law, activists who had opposed the legislation or asked foreign governments to impose sanctions on China or Hong Kong should be disqualified from running in the election.
The Communist Party mouthpiece People’s Daily also ran a commentary online, blaming the opposition’s recent primary election for the third wave of coronavirus infections in Hong Kong. About 600,000 people voted on July 11 and 12 to pick candidates to represent the pan-democrat bloc in the Legco polls.
“More than 250 polling stations were involved in the unlawful primary … how much risk was created for the virus to spread quickly,” it said.
But opposition figures questioned whether their rivals were merely seeking a delay because they feared losing and urged the government to do better in curbing the coronavirus rather than postpone the elections.
“The Chinese Communist Party does not want Hong Kong people’s voices to be heard in the legislature,” legislator Eddie Chu Hoi-dick said. “So, it wants to delay the election or disqualify pan-democratic candidates.
“But the response to the primary shows Hong Kong people will fight back harder in the face of greater pressure from Beijing.”
Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said People’s Daily was making an “empty allegation”.
Riding on its win in the district polls, the opposition camp vowed to achieve its first-ever majority in the 70-seat legislature.
Formally throwing his hat into the ring for the Kowloon East constituency on Monday, activist Joshua Wong Chi-fung said the pro-Beijing politicians were afraid of losing their seats and control of Legco.
“The pro-establishment camp fears it will lose. So they want the election to be postponed using the Covid-19 pandemic as an excuse,” he said. “But what Hong Kong people should instead ask about is the poor job the government has done in the past few months to see the epidemic return one wave after one.”
Pan-democrat lawmaker Tanya Chan argued that only health experts were in the position to call for a postponement.
Pro-Beijing lawmaker Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who is seeking re-election in the Kowloon West constituency, noted that many Hong Kong people were staying in mainland China amid the outbreak, and immigration and quarantine measures could make it difficult for them to return to vote.
“Many Hongkongers cannot return home to vote, are you depriving them of their right to vote?” she said
Under the Basic Law, each term in the legislature lasts for four years, with the current one ending on September 30, However, under the Legco ordinance, an election can only be postponed for 14 days.
Asked if the government could still operate if lawmakers had yet to be elected, Leung, a member of the Basic Law Committee, said the chief executive had discretionary power to make emergency laws when significant public interest was involved.
Professor Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of semi-official think tank the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macau Studies, said it was too early to decide if the vote should be postponed, and believed Beijing had a role in the final decision.
“It won’t be a very fair election if candidates cannot launch election campaigns, and hundreds of thousands of voters are still on the mainland,” he said.
Lau believed Beijing agreed to go ahead with the district council elections last year after some overly optimistic projections and would not take the decision lightly this time.
Ma Ngok, a political scientist at Chinese University, believed the pro-establishment side was pessimistic about its election prospects. “But they should understand that a postponement will not help even if it is delayed for a year,” he added.
Additional reporting by Ng Kang-chung and Tony Cheung
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