Hong Kong asks China’s top legislative body to resolve legal problems with postponing elections

Hong Kong’s embattled leader has invoked emergency powers to postpone the Legislative Council elections scheduled for September by one year, citing health risks from the resurgent Covid-19 crisis.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor announced the controversial move on Friday, revealing that China’s top legislative body would step in to rule on resolving any legal issues stemming from uncertainties over the fate of the current legislature and the year-long gap without a new election.
“Since January, we have been fighting the pandemic for seven months. This pandemic has dealt a heavy blow to our economy,” she said. “Some people have said that if I am not postponing the elections, they might take legal action … while others have said if you are postponing it, you must explain clearly.”
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Lam said she was invoking the colonial-era Emergency Regulations Ordinance to push the elections back from September 6 this year to September 5 next year, and her decision was fully supported by the central government.
Under the city’s mini-constitution, the Basic Law, each Legco term could only last for four years, the chief executive noted, and that would raise legal questions.
To resolve them, she had submitted an emergency report to the State Council in Beijing, which informed her that the central government would ask China’s top legislative body, the National People’s Congress Standing Committee, to make a decision on the outstanding legal and constitutional issues.
This would mark the second time in a year that Lam has invoked such powers, first introduced nearly a century ago under British colonial rule. She used the law last October to ban mask-wearing 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 gone ahead with their scheduled polls.
“In Britain, an emergency law was passed to postpone an election in May by one year,” she said, adding that an Australian election was also deferred by 12 months.
“If we continue with our election, millions of voters will be visiting polling stations on the same day. The risk of infection would be very high.”
Lam noted that despite preventive measures, new coronavirus infections since July had increased by 1,852 – a 140 per cent surge compared with the first six months.
“We are particularly worried about the situation in elderly care homes … and there is no sign that the situation in the city is improving yet,” 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 large-scale community outbreaks has been increasing every day.”
On the logistical challenge in the middle of a public health crisis, Lam said the government would have to recruit 34,000 electoral officers, and large crowds would be out on the streets on voting day.
She noted that registered voters living across the border in mainland China would not be able to cast their ballots with quarantine measures preventing travel.
Social-distancing measures had also made it hard for candidates to carry on with their campaign, she added.
Her announcement came after the two-week nomination period for candidates closed at 5pm and a dozen opposition hopefuls were disqualified on Thursday.
The decision throws up a series of legal questions, including whether council sessions could be extended and for how long, and if those disqualified would still act as lawmakers.
In a statement released earlier, 22 pan-democrat lawmakers, including four barred from seeking another term, said the Legislative Council elections were a core element of Hong Kong’s constitutional foundation.
“According to the Legco Ordinance, the polls can only be postponed by 14 days,” the statement said. “To postpone it (beyond that) is to trigger a constitutional crisis in the city.”
“After a year of democratic movement, it is urgent for Legco to undergo a baptism…
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