Hong Kong will postpone elections for its parliamentary body, the Legislative Council (LegCo), for a year, according to a government press conference last Friday. The elections, which were originally slated to happen on 6 September 2020, will now occur on 5 September 2021 – a decision which the government has attributed to the city’s escalating COVID-19 outbreak.
The unprecedented move, which significantly impacts Hong Kong’s democratic process, could spark further uncertainty among Hong Kong-based firms and incentivise businesses to migrate elsewhere. Hong Kong’s National Security Law, which also prompted widespread concern among businesses, has already seen tech firms and larger corporates reconsider their position as to whether to remain in Hong Kong.
The postponement of elections, which invokes the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, follows swiftly on the heels of the disqualification of 12 pro-democracy nominees last Thursday, crushing opposition hopes to achieve a 35-seat majority in LegCo after their landslide victory in November last year. Opposition politicians have raised concerns that the delay is merely a tactic to deny pro-democracy groups from winning more power over Hong Kong’s legislation.
In response, Chief Executive Carrie Lam denied any political motives behind the delay, stating, “The decision to postpone the 2020 Legislative Council election has nothing to do with politics, has nothing to do with the likely outcome of this round of election.” However, other countries including Singapore, South Korea, France, and Germany, have all successfully held elections since the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under normal circumstances, elections can be postponed for up to 14 days if “the election is likely to be obstructed, disrupted, undermined or seriously affected by riot or open violence or any danger to public health or safety”, according to the Legislative Council Ordinance.
The deferral has also been heavily criticised by international governments and condemned by the US government. “There is no valid reason for such a lengthy delay,” US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in a statement. He added that the elections should uphold the “will and aspirations of the Hong Kong people” – and failure to do so would mean the city will “continue its march toward becoming just another Communist-run city in China.”
According to a statement released by US Secretary of State Michael Pompeo, “There is no valid reason for such a lengthy delay. It is likely, therefore, that Hong Kong will never again be able to vote – for anything or anyone.”
The UK government has also expressed concern, albeit in more muted terms: “The Chinese government will need to reassure the people of Hong Kong and the world that elections will be held as soon as possible, and that they are not using COVID as a pretext to further undermine the autonomy of Hong Kong.”