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Hong Kong postpones elections by 1 year

July 31, 2020

Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam has announced a one-year delay to legislative elections, after 12 pro-democracy candidates were barred from the poll. Germany says it will suspend its extradition agreement with the city.

Pro-democracy activists Gwyneth Ho, Leung Hoi-ching, Tiffany Yuen and Joshua Wong campaign during primary elections in Hong Kong on July 12, 2020
Image: Getty Images/AFP/I. Lawrence

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday announced that she was delaying the election planned for September 6 because of mounting concern about the coronavirus pandemic. She said the election would be held on September 5, 2021.

"Today I announce the most difficult decision in the last seven months ... to postpone the Legislative Council election," Lam told reporters.

"The epidemic is posing a serious risk to Hong Kong. The election is unique, the biggest in Hong Kong," Lam said, adding that going through with the election would pose a risk to a great number of people.

A group of 22 lawmakers issued a statement accusing the Hong Kong administration of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay the vote.

"Our resistance will continue on and we hope the world can stand with us in the upcoming uphill battle," Joshua Wong, one of the city's most prominent pro-democracy figures, told reporters. "They can't kill us all."

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany expressed the Trump administration's disapproval with the decision, saying, "We condemn the Hong Kong government's decision to postpone for one year its legislative council elections and to disqualify opposition candidates."

A political and legal controversy

DW correspondent Phoebe Kong said the pro-democracy activists believed the pandemic was being used as an excuse to delay the election.

"They said this was a clampdown on the opposition movement," Kong said. "The postponement of the election will spark a huge not only political and also legal controversy, including how the local parliament is going to run."

Hong Kong has seen a surge in infections since the beginning of July but has still recorded a relatively low tally of infections overall.

The pro-democracy opposition scored an overwhelming victory in low-level elections last year and was hoping to capitalize on that momentum to win a majority in the directly elected part of the legislature. Such a majority would give opposition members the ability to slow bills from passing.

Read more: Hong Kong pro-democracy professor fired for 'doing evil'

The move comes after opposition candidates — including Wong — were disqualified from standing earlier this week. The exclusion has been criticized as a political purge.

Read more: Taiwan: Hong Kong immigrant influx expected as China cracks down

The opposition had expected to make gains on the back of widespread resentment about the Chinese Communist Party's imposition of a controversial new security law. The legislation — to punish what China defines as secession, subversion, terrorism, and collusion with foreign powers — was widely criticized by opponents and Western countries as damaging to citizens' rights.

Among the provisions was the possibility for the Hong Kong government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China. The law was imposed on June 30, since when there has been a marked crackdown on opposition activity.

Critics say the new law is inconsistent with freedoms that were promised to the former British colony when it returned to Chinese rule in 1997. Supporters say it will restore some stability to Hong Kong after a year of protests.

Germany to suspend extradition treaty

German Foreign Minister announced later on Friday that Germany would suspend its extradition agreement with Hong Kong.

"We have repeatedly clarified our expectation that China will comply with its international legal obligations," he said. Those obligations include the right to free and fair elections, he added.

"The Hong Kong government's decision to disqualify a dozen opposition candidates for the election and to postpone the elections to the Legislative Council is a further blow to the rights of Hong Kong citizens," said Maas.

The decision to end the agreement follows several additional steps taken by both Germany and the European Union in response to the controversial security law imposed on Hong Kong by Beijing.

Earlier this week, the EU agreed on a joint package of measures in response to the law, but left it to the discretion of each member state to implement individual measures. Beijing called the measures as "interference in internal affairs."

Read more:  EU restricts exports to Hong Kong over China security law

Germany has already imposed an export ban on certain items used for surveillance or by the military or police – for example, items that could be used against civilians during demonstrations. 

The country has also loosened its visa requirements for some Hong Kongers, and has taken steps to extend scholarships to more scientists and students from Hong Kong.

Countries including New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United Kingdom have also suspended their extradition agreements with Hong Kong in recent weeks. 

lc, rc/msh (AP, Reuters)

Hong Kong activists at a loss