The Hong Kong government may soon postpone Legislative Council (LegCo) elections set for September 6 due to the Covid-19 epidemic, according to news reports.
The Executive Council, Hong Kong’s decision-making body chaired by Chief Executive Carrie Lam, planned to discuss the postponement on Tuesday but delayed the agenda item to Friday because the topic was sensitive, Hong Kong Economic Times reported citing unnamed sources familiar with the situation.
About 610,000 people took part in unofficial primary LegCo elections held by the pro-democracy camp on July 11 and 12. The central government has said that the primaries were illegal and could have violated the National Security Law because some candidates had vowed to disrupt the government’s operations by vetoing the budget.
Since the so-called “third wave” epidemic emerged in Hong Kong from July 5, more than a thousand people have been infected with Covid-19.
On July 20, Tam Yiu-chung, the sole representative from Hong Kong on China’s National People’s Congress standing committee, said the government should postpone the LegCo election because the epidemic had been getting worse this month.
Since then, many pro-Beijing newspapers and politicians have called for a postponement. On July 25, Jasper Tsang, the former president of LegCo and a pro-Beijing heavyweight, said the election should be delayed for at least 12 months.
Citing sections 4 and 6 of the Legislative Council ordinance, Tsang said the Chief Executive in Council could specify the term of office of the LegCo to begin on October 1, 2021, and set the election date in September next year.
Citing section 11 of the ordinance, Tsang said the current LegCo President Andrew Leung could convene an emergency session of the LegCo at the request of the Chief Executive between October 1 of this year and September 30, 2021, when any necessary decision had to be made by the legislative body. He added that the existing 70 lawmakers could become the members of this emergency session, but it did not mean that their terms were extended.
His younger brother Tsang Tak-sing, former Secretary for Home Affairs, wrote in an article on Monday that the United Kingdom had announced the postponement of local elections in England from May 7 of this year to May 6, 2021. He said the Hong Kong government should follow suit to ensure voters’ safety and the fairness of the election.
Lau Sai-leung, a former full-time member of the Central Policy Unit and currently a political commentator, said the Hong Kong and central governments wanted to postpone the LegCo election because they were afraid that the pro-establishment side would fail to win half the seats in September.
Lau said if pro-establishment lawmakers could control the chamber for one more year, they could help pass the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan, in which Chinese construction firms would be granted projects worth hundreds of billions of Hong Kong dollars.
Lantau Tomorrow Vision is a massive land reclamation project unveiled by Lam in her Policy Address 2018 and aims to solve the land supply problems in Hong Kong for the next two to three decades.
The government estimated that the project would cost about HK$500 billion (US$64.5 billion). However, as the government had over-spent in previous infrastructure projects, it was estimated that the Lantau Tomorrow Vision plan would ultimately spend all the government’s fiscal reserves, which were about HK$1.13 trillion at the end of March.
Political commentator Simon Shen said the UK government got a mandate from the public to postpone local elections in England, but the Hong Kong government did not enjoy as much public support as the pro-democracy camp. The latter would win more than 60% of the votes and preferred to maintain the election schedule.
Bernard Chan, convenor of the ExCo, said the ExCo meeting on Tuesday did not discuss postponement of the LegCo election and he was not told anything about it by the government.
Earlier, he told the Financial Times newspaper that an American bank recently informed him it was closing his account. He added that other senior SAR officials were also facing similar issues as tensions mount between China and the US after Beijing imposed a national security law in Hong Kong.
It has remained unclear why the ExCo changed its agenda at the Tuesday meeting. On July 23, Robert Chow, founder of HKgpao.com, a pro-Beijing website, said electoral officers should disqualify candidates who refused to sign a confirmation form to uphold the Basic Law or had shown a “pro-independence” stance.
The nomination period of the LegCo election will end on Friday. Over the past week, electoral officers have asked pro-democracy candidates to sign the confirmation form and answer questions about whether they would support the National Security Law or vote down the government budget.
David Hui Shu-cheong, chairman of the department of medicine at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said the government could decide in two to three weeks based on the epidemic situation at the time.
The Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau said Tuesday that it was discussing with health officials and preparing for different plans for the LegCo election.