Hong Kong postpones elections for a 12 months ‘over virus considerations’

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Carrie Lam on Friday 31 July Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Carrie Lam stated there have been no political motives behind her move – however opposition activists disagree

The Hong Kong authorities has postponed September’s parliamentary elections by a 12 months, saying it’s vital amid an increase in coronavirus infections.

Hong Kong is presently experiencing a spike in Covid-19 infections, and reported 121 new instances on Friday.

However, the opposition has accused the federal government of utilizing the pandemic as a pretext to cease folks from voting.

On Thursday, the federal government banned 12 pro-democracy candidates from working within the elections.

Opposition activists had hoped to acquire a majority within the Legislative Council (LegCo) in September’s ballot, capitalising on anger at Beijing’s imposition of a controversial nationwide safety regulation in Hong Kong, and fears that the territory’s freedoms are being eroded.

Pro-democracy candidates had made unprecedented features in final 12 months’s district council elections, successful 17 out of 18 councils.

Chief Executive Carrie Lam stated she would invoke emergency powers to postpone the elections, calling it the “most difficult decision I’ve made over the past seven months”.

“This postponement is entirely made based on public safety reasons, there were no political considerations,” she stated.

How unhealthy is the pandemic in Hong Kong?

Hong Kong has had greater than 100 day by day new instances, for 10 days in a row.

The total numbers are nonetheless decrease than these of many different locations – however the spike comes after Hong Kong appeared to have contained the outbreak, with weeks of few or no native infections.

Now, it is experiencing what’s been described as a “third wave” of infections, and Ms Lam says she fears Hong Kong’s hospitals shall be overwhelmed by new instances.

Health consultants have informed the BBC that, with the reintroduction of social distancing measures, the speed of an infection seems to have slowed, they usually hope Hong Kong shall be again to shut to zero native infections inside 4 to 6 weeks.

The metropolis has launched powerful new measures to fight the virus, banning gatherings of greater than two folks.

What’s the argument for suspending elections?

The territory has had greater than 3,200 confirmed infections, and 27 deaths, from the virus.

Ms Lam stated Hong Kong’s pandemic was in “its worst situation since January” and “as community spread continues, the risk of a large-scale outbreak will increase”.

She stated that with 4.4m registered voters in Hong Kong, the elections would contain “a large-scale gathering and an immense infection risk”, whereas social distancing measures would stop candidates from canvassing.

She additionally stated that continuing with elections in September would pose a selected threat to aged voters, and that Hong Kong had many registered voters in mainland China, and abroad, who could be unable to participate within the elections whereas border quarantine measures had been in place.

The Beijing authorities stated it supported the choice, which was made “in the interests of the public and based on the actual situations in Hong Kong”.

What’s the argument in opposition to delaying the polls?

Opposition politicians say that, beneath native election legal guidelines, the polls can solely be postponed by 14 days, and {that a} longer delay would “trigger a constitutional crisis in the city”.

Lawmaker Tanya Chan stated she suspected pro-government politicians had been extra involved about “their own election prospects” quite than “the severity of the pandemic”.

Some consultants have instructed that measures may very well be put into place to make elections safer, corresponding to lowering ready occasions at polling stations – and {that a} delay of a complete 12 months will not be vital.

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Media captionHong Kong safety regulation: The BBC’s Stephen McDonell explains what it means, and what folks there suppose

Activist Joshua Wong, who was disqualified from working within the elections, wrote on Twitter that the pandemic was getting used as “as an excuse to postpone the election” and was “the largest election fraud in #HK’s history.”

Hundreds of 1000’s of individuals took half in unofficial pro-democracy primaries earlier this month, in what was seen as an a present of help for the pro-democracy motion.

What produce other governments achieved?

At least 68 nations or territories postponed elections because of Covid-19, whereas 49 locations held elections as deliberate, says the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.

During her press convention, Ms Lam argued that many governments had additionally postponed elections by a 12 months, together with the London’s Mayoral elections, and native authorities elections in Australia’s New South Wales.

Her comparability was queried by journalists, who stated the outbreak in Hong Kong was not as extreme. London presently has a complete of about 35,000 Covid-19 instances, in comparison with Hong Kong’s 3,200.

Meanwhile, in Australia, by-elections in Victoria went forward as scheduled in March, as did a federal by-election in New South Wales.

Singapore held its basic election earlier this month – and had its highest turnout in recent times, says Eugene Tan, a regulation professor and political commentator at Singapore Management University.

“There is never a good time for an election during a pandemic,” he says, however the vote went forward with a number of security measures in place and “demonstrates that it is possible to protect public health even as people go about exercising their democratic right to vote.”

How does the Legislative Council work?

The Legislative Council – or LegCo – helps to make and amend Hong Kong’s legal guidelines.

It is made up of 70 seats – however solely 35 of those seats are instantly voted for by the general public.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption File photograph of the chamber of the Legislative Council

Another 30 seats signify “functional constituencies” – these are voted for by smaller teams representing particular pursuits, primarily companies, banking and commerce. Historically these sectors have been largely pro-Beijing.

The final 5 seats are made up of district councillors who’re elected by the general public to sit down on LegCo.

This system, the place solely a proportion of LegCo councillors are chosen by the general public, has been referred to as undemocratic by critics however supporters of the system say it helps keep away from populism and protects Hong Kong’s enterprise pursuits.