• 1 August, 2020 10:14 am

International

Public health must prevail over politics in HK LegCo election

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The Hong Kong authority announced to postpone the Legislative Council (LegCo) elections, due on September 6, as the city is battling its third wave of COVID-19 infections. In contrary to opposition politicians’ allegations, the delay is justified and legitimate.

The decision on the polling date is made on the basis of protecting public health. As of Friday, Hong Kong has seen a triple-digit rise of confirmed COVID-19 cases for 10 consecutive days, bringing the total to above 3,000, according to the Center for Health Protection. To curb the virus, the Hong Kong government has unveiled sweeping social-distancing rules: public gatherings are limited to two people. Any breach of the restrictions would face fines or even imprisonment.

If the city insisted on holding LegCo elections in September, the polling stations would be turned into hotbeds for the COVID-19 as social distancing is impossible to be guaranteed there. Large crowds mean surging possibilities of being infected. Anyone with common sense knows a massive pandemic has little chance of dying down in less than two months before September 6. Therefore, pushing back elections is the only solution.

And Hong Kong is not the only city on the decision. Since February, at least 68 countries and regions have postponed regional or national elections as a result of the pandemic, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. Western countries are also included: The UK delayed its mayoral polls for a year to 2021; the United States saw its 16 states setting back presidential primaries, and Trump has suggested delaying the presidential election. In any circumstances, public health is prioritized over politics. Calling off LegCo polls, the Hong Kong authority is shouldering responsibilities for its residents.

Social distancing signs are seen on tables at a restaurant in Hong Kong, China, March 30, 2020. /AP

The decision is also back up by Hong Kong laws. It’s true that the Legislative Council Ordinance regulates that voting, if delayed for severe weather, violence, or risk to public health, must be held within two weeks after the original date – September 20, in this case. But the city’s chief executive can invoke the 1922 emergency law to “make any regulations whatsoever which he [or she] may consider desirable in the public interest.”

Not surprisingly, the opposition parties will not miss the chance to fuss about the postponement. The delay, according to them, is to wait out anger over the newly passed national security law, and thus its real motive is to diminish the opposition’s chance of controlling the LegCo. As the city is seeing a climbing number of COVID-19 cases on a daily basis, opposition politicians are still prioritizing their political gains over lives.

Lashing out at the postponement, the opposition only cared about “building a momentum based on the radical atmosphere of the 2019 turmoil,” Li Xiaobing, an expert on Hong Kong affairs at Nankai University, was quoted by the Global Times as saying. After all, it is in this way that they secured the victory in last year’s district council election.

In addition, the severity of the pandemic means a huge number of Hong Kong residents living in the mainland are highly unlikely to return to vote if the elections were pushed through in September. As of last June, 541,900 Hongkongers were residing in Guangdong. Their absence would put pro-establishment camp at a disadvantageous position in polls. But this is what opposition politicians are happy to see. Crying foul over the justified and legitimate postponement, the opposition is politicizing the pandemic for their political pursuit at the sacrifice of innocent lives.

Certain territories have already paid a heavy price for prioritizing political calculations over scientific judgment in this massive pandemic. The United States is a vivid example where politicians’ politics-first policy has made the country the world’s No. 1 in confirmed cases and deaths. Before discrediting the postponement, the opposition may need to think twice whether they want to repeat Washington’s mistakes. Public health should always come first, and calling off September’s election is the only responsible way forward in the pandemic.

Scriptwriter: Liu Jianxi

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