Hong Kong delays upcoming elections for a year 'due to coronavirus'

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government delays upcoming elections for a year ‘due to coronavirus’ amid fury over China’s new security law

  • Hong Kong was to hold elections for the city’s 70-seat legislature in September
  • But it has been postponed by Beijing-backed officials who blamed the pandemic
  • China supported the decision and labelled it as ‘necessary, reasonable and legal’
  • Came after 12 democracy candidates were barred from running for the seats

Hong Kong has delayed its highly-anticipated legislative elections by a year as fury grows among local activists over the sweeping security law imposed by Beijing. 

Carrie Lam, leader of the pro-Beijing government, announced the decision today, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the Chinese-ruled city.

China also backed the postponement, claiming it was ‘very necessary, reasonable and legal’.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that the government has the support of the Chinese government in making the decision. She is pictured speaking at a briefing today

Hong Kong’s pro-Beijing government has delayed the upcoming elections for a year ‘due to coronavirus’ amid fury over China’s new security law. The file picture taken on June 29 shows women walking past a government-sponsored advert promoting the new national security law

The news comes a day after a dozen democracy activists have been barred from standing in the elections, a move slammed by activists as the most pressing assault yet on Beijing’s critics in the city. 

‘The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months,’ Ms Lam said at a news conference.

‘We want to ensure fairness and public safety and health, and need to make sure the election is held in an open, fair and impartial manner. This decision is therefore essential,’ she said. 

China said today that it supported Hong Kong’s decision to delay legislative elections for a year because of a surge in coronavirus cases.

‘It is very necessary, reasonable and legal,’ the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office of the State Council said in a short statement. ‘The central government fully understands and supports it.’

The postponement will be felt as a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalise on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to make gains. 

A group of 22 legislators issued a statement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.

‘Incumbent pro-democracy legislators, who represent 60% of the public’s opinion, collectively oppose the postponement and emphasise the responsibility of the SAR government to make every effort to arrange adequate anti-epidemic measures to hold elections in September as scheduled,’ the statement said, referring to the territory’s official name, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region.

‘Otherwise, it is tantamount to uprooting the foundation of the establishment of the SAR.’

A dozen Hong Kong democracy activists were disqualified on Thursday from standing in September’s legislative elections, a move decried by candidates as the most pressing assault yet on Beijing’s critics in the city. The picture taken on July 15 shows the activist Joshua Wong (left), along with 15 other winners of the democratic primaries, speaks to reporters

Many of those disqualified took to social media to post the letters confirming they had been barred – including Joshua Wong, one of the city’s best known activists. Pictured, Mr Wong with the nomination papers on Monday as he files his candidacy for the official body on July 20

The city of 7.5 million people has seen a surge in coronavirus infections since the beginning of July. Hong Kong had recorded more than 3,100 cases as of Thursday, more than double the tally on July 1.

The government has tightened social distancing restrictions, limiting public gatherings to two people, and banned dining-in at restaurants after 6pm.

The lead-up to the election, originally scheduled for September 6, has been closely watched after a national security law that took effect in late June stipulated that candidates who violated the law would be barred from running.

The new law is seen as Beijing’s attempt to curb dissent in the city, after months of pro-democracy and anti-government protests in Hong Kong last year.

On Thursday, 12 pro-democracy candidates including prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong were disqualified from running for not complying with the city’s constitution or pledging allegiance to the local and national governments.

At a news conference on Friday, Mr Wong said: ‘Beyond any doubt, this is the most scandalous election ever in Hong Kong history. I wish to emphasise that no reasonable man would think that this election ban is not politically driven.’

‘Beijing has staged multiple acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking the majority in the Hong Kong legislature,’ he said.

The elections could be deferred for up to a year, according to the South China Morning Post newspaper, which cited unnamed sources.

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