Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam defends election delay, says due to Covid-19

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said the decision was based on the objective development of the epidemic. PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG - Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam has defended her decision to postpone the city's Legislative Council (Legco) election due to the worsening coronavirus outbreaks, stressing that voters will not be deprived of their rights.

She said on Saturday (Aug 1) the decision was based on the objective development of the epidemic, without political considerations.

The government must also consider the rights of voters stranded overseas, she added in an interview with broadcaster TVB.

"We estimate that there are hundreds of thousands of people stranded in the mainland or overseas. If we... continue the election under the severe epidemic, and people are worried about the risk of infection, more than 7 million people in Hong Kong may be harmed."

The election was slated for Sept 6, but has been postponed by a whole year to Sept 5, 2021.

Mrs Lam, whose public support levels are at an all-time low, pointed out that Hong Kong has no overseas voting or electronic voting arrangements.

"If we hope to better deal with future unexpected events that make it impossible to carry out the usual election process, we should seriously consider, for example, in the case of Singapore, overseas voting," she said.

Mrs Lam also expressed hope that the infighting in the Legco would end in the coming year so that work would continue as per normal during the "vacuum period" or the duration that the current government term is extended by.

"Some legislators have adopted a resistance strategy. For example, it was recently pointed out that if the opposition seizes more than half of the Legco, no policy will be passed - an indiscriminate move to block everything.

"This position of complete resistance is disadvantageous to the public."

Asked if she was worried about being sanctioned by Western countries, Mrs Lam said these countries have used the postponing of elections as a pretext to attack Hong Kong but her administration has a response plan.

The controversial move throws up questions of legitimacy as to a lack of mandate "because voters did not vote them in for more than four years", veteran political watcher Associate Professor Sing Ming told The Straits Times.

"If there's no legislature at all and the government would legislate, that would become even more absurd because that violates the Basic Law... The procedural legitimacy of any provisional legislature will be undermined," he added.

In a separate interview earlier in the day with the local Commercial Radio, Mrs Lam expressed regret over the bungling of the full dine-in ban.

She said she and her team felt very embarrassed after backpedalling on the decision to ban dining-in at eateries completely.

Blue-collar workers had to lunch by the roads, at construction sites and other outdoor public areas on Wednesday and Thursday, before eateries were allowed to serve dine-in customers again on Friday.

The government has been struggling to contain the Covid-19 outbreak as it worsens the past month, piling pressure on the city's healthcare system and testing capabilities.

On Saturday, there were 125 new infections, of which 124 were local transmissions. This brings the tally to 3,397, including 31 deaths.

And in a sign of further cracks within the government, Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) David Leung, who has been a prosecutor for 25 years, has resigned, citing differences with Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng.

In an email sent to his colleagues, Mr Leung said he had been sidelined on matters relating to the national security law and would leave his post at the end of the year.

At the Friday briefing on election delay, Ms Cheng confirmed Mr Leung's exit and declined to comment further.

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