“Since January, we have been fighting the pandemic for seven months. This pandemic has dealt a major blow to our economy,” she said. “Some people have said that if I do not postpone the elections, they can take legal action … while that others have said that if you are postponing it, you must explain it clearly. “
Lam said she was invoking the Colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to push elections back from Sept. 6 this year to Sept. 5 next year, and its decision was fully supported by the central government.
According to the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, each Legco term can only last for four years, the chief executive argued, raising legal questions.
To resolve them, she had submitted an emergency report to the State Council in Beijing, informing her that the central government was asking China̵7;s main legislative body, the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, to take a decision on outstanding legal and constitutional issues.
This marks the second time in a year that Lam invoked these powers, first introduced almost a century ago under British colonial rule. Last October he used the law to ban the wearing of a mask by protesters hiding their identities during anti-government demonstrations.
Lam cited examples of other governments postponing elections, saying more than 60 countries had done so since July 15, and only 49 countries had conducted their scheduled polls.
“In Britain, an emergency law was passed to postpone an election in May by a year,” she said, adding that an Australian election has also been postponed by 12 months.
“If we continue with our election, millions of voters will visit polling stations on the same day. The risk of infection will be very high.”
Lam noted that despite preventive measures, new coronavirus infections since July have increased by 1,852 – a 140 percent increase compared to the first six months.
“We are particularly concerned about the situation in nursing homes … and there is no sign that the situation in the city is still improving,” she said. “The situation has been most critical since January 2020, as the virus will continue to spread in the city, and the risk of a large-scale community outbreak is increasing daily.”
On the logistical challenge in the midst of a public health crisis, Lam said the government will have to recruit 34,000 election officials, and large crowds will take to the streets on polling day.
She noted that registered voters living across the border in mainland China would not be able to cast their vote with quarantine measures to prevent travel.
She added social breakdown measures were also difficult for candidates to continue with their campaign.
Her announcement came after a two-week nomination period for candidates closed at 5pm and a dozen opposition hopes were disqualified on Thursday.
The decision raises a series of legal questions, including whether and how long council sessions can be extended, and whether those disqualified continue to act as legislators.
In an earlier statement, 22 pan-democratic lawmakers, including four who were excluded from seeking another term, said the Legislative Council elections were a key element of Hong Kong’s constitutional foundation.
“According to the Legco Ordinance, voting can only be postponed by 14 days,” the statement said. “To postpone it [beyond that] is to bring about a constitutional crisis in the city. “
“After a year of democratic movement, it is urgent for Legco to go through the baptism of public opinion, which is the root of the city’s governance … The government and society as a whole must make every effort to ensure that general elections can be held as planned. “
Xinhua’s official news agency reported on Wednesday that the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress will meet again in Beijing from August 8 to 11 to discuss a series of laws. . No Hong Kong-related item was put on the agenda. The opposition also accused the government of trying to deprive residents of their right to vote.
“Hong Kong’s constitutional and legal frameworks do not allow for such kind of manipulation,” the statement said. “It has also been suggested that the National People’s Congress will intervene … specifying the total collapse of our constitutional order.”
The camp noted more than 60 countries or regions around the world had successfully held elections during the pandemic, both on schedule and with short delays. The Hong Kong authorities should learn from their examples, she said.
The postponement came a day after the opposition camp suffered a severe blow with 12 members, including veteran and moderate politicians, after their candidacy was invalidated by returning officials, while the government warned that more may be disqualified.
At least 22 other opposition hopes are still awaiting the return of officials ’verdicts on their applications.
On Thursday in letters to aspirants, election officials cited the city’s new national security law and previous pan-democrat calls for foreign governments to sanction Beijing and Hong Kong as reasons. for the prescription of four legislators present – Alvin Yeung Ngok of the Civic Party, Dennis Kwok and Kwok Ka-ki, as well as accounting sector legislator Kenneth Leung.
Other disqualified opposition figures included Joshua Wong Chi-fung, Ventus Lau Wing-hong, Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam and Alvin Cheng Kam-mun, along with district councilors Cheng Hanging, Lester Shum, Tiffany Yuen Ka-wai and Fergus Leung Fong -wai.
Returning officials mentioned similar reasons for their invalidation and their previous promise to vote in the government budget and other bills, if the bloc wins an unprecedented majority in the legislature.
The government has warned that more candidates could face the same fate. But a source familiar with the matter said no additional disqualifications will be announced on Friday. “But returning offices have the power to do so after the nomination period closes on Friday,” the source said.
Additional reporting by Lilian Cheng