Hong Kong could postpone election in blow for democracy camp

epa08541298 Voters wait in line before voting for a primary the opposition camp is holding to select candidates for the upcoming Legislative Council elections, in Hong Kong, China, 11 July 2020 (issued 12 July 2020). Hongkonger activists fear Beijing's security laws will harm democrats' chances of winning by banning anti-government candidates from the 06 September poll. EPA-EFE/JEROME FAVRE

HONG KONG, July 29 (Reuters) - Hong Kong could postpone a vote for seats in the city's legislature by a year amid fears of a resurgence in coronavirus cases, public broadcaster RTHK reported on Wednesday, in what would be a blow for opposition democrats.

The pro-democracy camp is aiming to win a historic majority in the Sept. 6 election given widespread resentment of Beijing’s imposition of a new security law widely criticised by Western countries as eroding citizens’ rights.

The RTHK report cited unidentified sources and did not give any more details.

The government’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said in an emailed statement it was preparing for the election together with the Registration and Electoral Office “and shall closely keep in touch with the Food and Health Bureau, the Centre for Health Protection and relevant departments to monitor the development of the epidemic and formulate various plans”.

Some 600,000 people voted in unofficial “primary” polls for the opposition in Hong Kong this month, sending a younger, more confrontational generation of pro-democracy politicians into the race for the legislature.

One of them, prominent democracy activist Joshua Wong, said he would doubt the reason given for any coronavirus delay.

“Using pandemic as an excuse to postpone the election is definitely a lie,” Wong said on Twitter.

The Legislative Council election would be the first vote in the former British colony since the introduction of the national security legislation in the semi-autonomous city.

The law punishes what China broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces with up to life in prison and sees mainland Chinese security agents operating officially in the city for the first time.

Critics of the law say it erodes the freedoms Hong Kong was promised when it was handed back to China in 1997, while supporters say it would restore stability after a year of often-violent pro-democracy, anti-China protests.

Britain’s foreign minister, Dominic Raab, told top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi that Britain would be watching the elections closely and stressed that China needed to rebuild trust in the global community, a British Foreign Office spokesman said on Tuesday.

Under city laws, the government can postpone elections if the chief executive is of the opinion that the vote “is likely to be obstructed, disrupted, undermined or seriously affected by riot or open violence or any danger to public health or safety”.

A new election date, not more than 14 days after the original date, must be announced immediately, according to election laws. But colonial-era legislation gives the government sweeping powers in case of emergency or public danger.

It is not clear if former members of the city assembly, whose terms have expired, could return to the legislature in the event of a year’s postponement.

Hong Kong has reported about 3,000 coronavirus cases since January and more than 20 deaths – far lower than in other major cities around the world.

But the government has warned of a new surge of infections in the community and has banned dining in restaurants and limited group gatherings to two people.

Rival finance hub Singapore, which has had a larger coronavirus outbreak, held a general election this month.

At least 68 countries and territories have delayed national or regional elections due to the coronavirus since February, the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance said.

At least 49 countries and territories have decided to hold national or subnational elections, it said. (Additional reporting by Greg Torode and Donny Kwok; Writing by Marius Zaharia Editing by Robert Birsel, Nick Macfie)


"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.