Hong Kong postponed its scheduled legislative elections until next year on Friday, The Associated Press reports.
Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced that the city would issue an emergency order delaying the elections by a year, citing concerns about the coronavirus. The move comes as pro-Democracy groups aimed to pick up seats in the legislature amid China’s increasing crackdown on the semi-autonomous region.
“The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I’ve had to make in the past seven months,” Lam said.
“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.
Opposition demands election be held:
A group of 22 opposition lawmakers issued a statement arguing that Lam was using the coronavirus as an excuse and demanded the elections move forward as scheduled in September.
“Incumbent pro-democracy legislators, who represent 60% of the public’s opinion, collectively oppose the postponement and emphasize the responsibility of the [Hong Kong Special Administrative Region] government to make every effort to arrange adequate anti-epidemic measures to hold elections in September as scheduled,” they said.
“Otherwise, it is tantamount to uprooting the foundation of the establishment of the SAR,” the group added.
Hong Kong, like several Asian nations, has seen a rise in coronavirus infections, reporting 3,273 new cases in July.
The government has banned public gatherings and some indoor dining.
But the decision to delay the elections came after China voted to approve a new national security law aimed at cracking down on protests in Hong Kong and barring candidates who violated the new law from running.
“The people of Hong Kong deserve to have their voice represented by the elected officials that they choose in those elections,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. “If they destroy that, if they take that down, it will be another marker that will simply prove that the Chinese Communist Party has now made Hong Kong just another Communist-run city.”