Hong Kong’s leader Carrie Lam has announced the postponement of September’s legislative council elections by a year, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak.
The move on Friday is seen as a setback for the pro-democracy opposition, which was hoping to capitalise on disenchantment with the current pro-Beijing majority to win a historic majority itself.
At a press conference, Lam said the “tough” decision was aimed at safeguarding people’s health. The chief executive said the election will now be held on September 5, 2021.
“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months,” Lam said at a news conference.
“We want to ensure fairness and public safety and health, and need to make sure the election is held in an open, fair and impartial manner. This decision is therefore essential,” she added.
Before Lam’s announcement, a group of 22 lawmakers had issued a statement accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.
The city of 7.5 million people has seen a surge in coronavirus infections since the beginning of July. Hong Kong had registered some 3,100 infections as of Thursday, more than double the tally at the start of the month.
The highly anticipated vote on September 6 vote would have been the first since Beijing imposed a controversial national security law imposed on the former British colony last month stipulated that candidates who violated it would be barred from running.
Critics say the law is an attempt by China to curb dissent in Hong Kong, ushering a crackdown the spells the end of the Chinese-ruled city’s high degree of autonomy.
The Chinese and Hong Kong governments say the law will not undermine Hong Kong’s freedoms and is necessary to preserve order and prosperity after months of often-violent anti-government protests last year.
On Thursday, 12 oppositions candidates including prominent pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong were disqualified from running in the elections for not complying with the city’s constitution or pledging allegiance to the local and national governments.
“Beyond any doubt, this is the most scandalous election ever in Hong Kong history,” Wong said at a news conference earlier on Friday. “I wish to emphasize that no reasonable man would think that this election ban is not politically driven.”
“Beijing has staged multiple acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking the majority in the Hong Kong legislature,” he said.
Al Jazeera and news agencies