Hong Kong leader cites COVID-19 risk in delaying elections

Hong Kong leader cites COVID-19 risk in delaying elections
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Hong Kong’s leader cited health risks from the coronavirus pandemic Friday in announcing the postponement of parliamentary elections for a year, a decision likely to draw criticism from those worried about Beijing’s rolling back of freedoms on the territory.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam invoked emergency powers to postpone elections scheduled for Sept. 6 for the Legislative Council to a year later. A statement from the Hong Kong government said the move had the backing of Beijing.

“The current wave of the epidemic is likely to last for weeks or even longer. There may also be a winter surge,” a government spokesperson said in a statement.

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“The [Legislative Council] performs important and substantive functions, and has an annual business cycle. Further, preparation work and the voter registration exercise will take months before an election can be held. It is reasonable and in the public interest to postpone the election for a year.”

The Hong Kong government said the move follows other countries that have delayed elections, citing a decision in the United Kingdom to postpone local council elections and metro-mayoral elections.

Since February, Reuters reported that at least 68 countries and territories around the world have postponed national or regional elections due to COVID-19. It cited the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

Yet at least 49 countries and territories are pushing forward on national or subnational elections.

The move by Hong Kong to delay elections is likely to draw criticism from the international community, with multinational lawmakers earlier condemning the disqualification of 12 pro-democracy Hong Kong candidates from running for seats in the city’s legislature.

The international community has also expressed outrage at Beijing’s passage of a national security law, condemned as violating Hong Kong’s autonomy under the one country, two systems rule of government, and imposing harsh prison sentences for vague offenses of secession, subversion and terrorist activities.

The U.S., in response to passage of the national security law, has certified that it would no longer treat Hong Kong as autonomous from Beijing, ending special treatment for the territory and imposing sanctions on Beijing officials seen as infringing on the autonomy of the territory.