Fight COVID-19 resolutely Postpone election to protect health
2 August 2020
The epidemic situation in Hong Kong has been extremely severe since the outbreak in early July. Confirmed cases have spread across the community, with the daily figure exceeding 100 for 11 days in a row and the emergence of multiple infection clusters. 900 confirmed cases were recorded last week (July 25 to 31), more than five times the total of May and June (168 cases), bringing the cumulative figure to over 3 000.
Stepping up measures to fight the epidemic
As an all-out effort to combat the rapid spread of the infections, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (HKSAR) Government took decisive action last Monday (July 27) to introduce the most stringent anti-epidemic measures ever, the measures are in effect for seven days from July 29 to August 4.
Noting the difficulties and inconvenience caused by the cessation of dine-in services for the entire day to employees not working from home, the Government asked for understanding and made prompt adjustments. Having reviewed the actual situation particularly public receptiveness to the measure on the first day (July 29) of implementation, the Government announced the next day that daytime dine-in services may resume on catering premises from the following day subject to the implementation of more stringent preventive measures, including limiting the number of customers to 50% of the seating capacity and two per table.
The Government has striven to balance the best interests of the whole community before coming up with the current social distancing measures. We will keep a close watch on the development of the epidemic, seek expert advice, review the effectiveness of the anti-epidemic measures, and make timely adjustments to our strategies. Meanwhile, members of the public must remain vigilant at all times. They should adhere to the social distancing measures, go out less and comply with the compulsory mask-wearing requirement.
To curb this wave of the epidemic, we must adopt a multi-pronged and integrated approach. Apart from implementing tougher social distancing measures, we must also take further steps to strengthen virus testing for both inbound travellers and local residents, increase quarantine centres and community isolation facilities, and trace cases using the "Super Computer".
The Central People's Government (CPG) cares very much about the health of Hong Kong people and has acceded to our request by sending in mainland testing personnel to assist in our large-scale nucleic acid testing. Assistance will also be given to establish a makeshift facility at AsiaWorld-Expo similar to a "mobile cabin hospital" and build a new temporary hospital at a site to be identified by the HKSAR Government. All this work will proceed within the soonest possible time and we are very grateful indeed.
Postponing Legislative Council General Election for one year – a well-founded and decisive move
The Chief Executive announced last Friday the postponement of the Legislative Council (LegCo) General Election in light of the severe outbreak. We have made this tough but inevitable decision in a bid to curb the outbreak, protect public safety and health as well as ensure an open and fair election. This decision, taken with regard to the public health situation of Hong Kong and for the sake of public interest, is simply pragmatic and in no way political.
The LegCo General Election is postponed for good reasons as the epidemic situation has been extremely severe since the outbreak in early July. There is an increasing risk of a major community outbreak that may lead to a collapse of our public hospital system, which would be a serious public crisis.
The LegCo General Election is massive in scale. It can be anticipated that a situation with over three million voters casting their votes on the same day will create a very high infection risk. Under the existing regulation to prohibit group gatherings (tightened to no more than two persons), it would not be possible for candidates to carry out any meaningful rallying activities. Further, a large number of voters are living, working and studying on the Mainland, while many are stranded overseas. These voters will not be able to return to Hong Kong to vote owing to the border control measures. Moreover, as elderly voters are at a higher infection risk, they may refrain from voting and take expert advice to stay home amid the severe epidemic situation.
If the election is to be held on September 6 as scheduled, it can hardly be a fair and open one, and may also undermine the safety of voters, candidates and their supporters as well as tens of thousands of staff at the polling and counting stations.
International practice and overseas experience
Many elections have been postponed across the world owing to COVID-19. Among others, the United Kingdom postponed the local council elections and the metro-mayoral elections due to take place on 7 May 2020 for one year to 6 May 2021. According to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, as at July 15, 62 countries and eight territories have postponed their scheduled elections in light of the epidemic.
The current wave of the epidemic is most likely to last for some time and there may be a winter surge. Besides, the LegCo performs important and substantive functions and has an annual business cycle, while preparation work and the voter registration exercise will take months before an election can be held. Taking all these into account, it is reasonable and in the public interest to postpone the election for one year.
Invoking the Emergency Regulations Ordinance
Given that the current epidemic is an occasion of emergency that endangers public safety, the Chief Executive in Council (CE-in-Council) has invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance (Cap. 241) to make the Emergency (Date of General Election) (Seventh Term of the Legislative Council) Regulation (Emergency Regulation) to postpone the LegCo General Election for one year. This is the only viable option for the Government to ensure the openness and fairness of the election while safeguarding public health.
Support from the CPG
Article 69 of the Basic Law stipulates that the term of office of the LegCo shall be four years, except the first term which shall be two years. While the Emergency Regulation can postpone the election date of the seventh-term LegCo for one year, it cannot deal with the lacuna of the LegCo arising from the postponement. As such, the Chief Executive has submitted an urgent report to the CPG seeking its support and directions.
In reply, the State Council expressed support for the CE-in-Council in making a decision to postpone the election by one year on the grounds of public interest and in light of the actual situation in Hong Kong. As to how to deal with the lacuna of the LegCo arising from the postponement, the CPG will refer to the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress for a decision.
Returning Officers' decisions being valid and lawful
The HKSAR Government has all along respected and safeguarded the rights legitimately enjoyed by Hong Kong residents, including the rights to vote and stand for election. It is also incumbent upon the Government to implement and uphold the Basic Law and ensure that all elections will be conducted in an open, fair and honest manner in accordance with the Basic Law and relevant electoral laws.
While the seventh-term LegCo election has been postponed for a year, the HKSAR Government agrees to and supports the earlier decisions of Returning Officers to invalidate certain nominations for the election. In handling the election matters, the Returning Officers have discharged their duties in strict accordance with the Basic Law, relevant ordinances and legal advice.
We have been stressing that upholding the Basic Law is a fundamental constitutional duty of every LegCo Member. Nominees who have certain behaviours1 could not genuinely uphold the Basic Law and therefore could not perform the duties of a LegCo Member.
The National Security Law has provided a solid framework for safeguarding national security and built a strong safety net for both our country and our city. Upon the enactment of the National Security Law, Hong Kong will be able to return to the right track, restore order, have a better environment for the rule of law and business, and thereby be able to maintain long-term prosperity and stability under "One Country, Two Systems". Last Friday, the Office for Safeguarding National Security of the Central People's Government in the HKSAR held the first co-ordination meeting with the Committee for Safeguarding National Security of the HKSAR to discuss the work regarding the implementation and enforcement of the National Security Law after its coming into effect.
The Government will keep up its efforts in fighting the epidemic. Only when the situation stabilises can public health and safety be safeguarded and our economy recover in a faster pace.