Opinion | LegCo Poll Deferral: A strategy in public interest

Opinion | LegCo Poll Deferral: A strategy in public interest

Mrs Carrie Lam announced her proposal of postponing, owing to deepening concerns over a resurgent Covid-19 crisis. Photo: Orange News

By Mervyn Cheung Man-Ping

If there is any lack of comprehension about "double standards" in practice, the rigid stance of the advanced camp in the West on Hong Kong postponement of the coming Legislative Council (LegCo) election has readily provided a crystal clear illustration. On July 31, the Chief Executive (CE) of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region ((HKSAR), Mrs Carrie Lam, announced her proposal of postponing, owing to deepening concerns over a resurgent Covid-19 crisis, the Legislative Council (LegCo) election from the originally scheduled date of September 6 to 5 September 2021. To this end, she has invoked emergency powers under the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, and defended its use over other legal options, including the LegCo Ordinance which allows deferral for only 14 days in each count, and the Prevention and Control of Disease Regulation, which she considers inappropriate too given the poll shelving is more than a health issue. Yet she has kicked the matter off on her own despite admitting at the same time the possibility of confronting legal challenges from the opposition groups.

Mrs Lam's conjectures are accurate. Her proposal triggered forthwith highly antagonistic responses among her political opponents, particularly the LegCo pan-democratics and hopefuls, who are all having an eye on the much speculated opportunity of scoring over half of the seats in the otherwise impending election to the legislature. They accused the CE of seizing the Covid-19 epidemic as a political pretext to give the pro-establishment groups more time to rebuild their competitive edge in the LegCo election. On a more devastating note, the opposition parties blasted vehemently the CE on what they believed to be a delaying tactic which would lead to a "self-created constitutional crisis" in which to invite Beijing to "ravage" the city's electoral system.

Against all these charges, the CE repeated her assurances that the "hardest decision" to defer the LegCo election for one year was based sheerly on the imperative need for safeguarding public health and safety amidst the deteriorating viral spread. She further dismissed the denunciation of siding with the pro-establishment coalition in the preparation for the LegCo polls, adding that her administration had conducted the District Council election on schedule last year despite pre-election surveys predicting a reversal of the scale of voter support in favour of the democratic factions in the district-based official advisory organs.

Seemingly orchestrated again this time, some of the developed countries in the democratic West spared no time in condemning the HKSAR's temporary protraction of the LegCo election on what they construe as the cynical excuse of the escalated threat of the Covid-19 disease. As usual, they tried hard to pin all the irresponsible acts on China for allegedly failing to honour the so-called promised international commitments to the territory's autonomy and freedoms. Yet in shouting aloud to disapprove of the HKSAR's amended election plan, these western countries, including also Australia, have selectively lost memories of their recent decisions to put off regional and federal elections for up to 12 months or even indefinitely. Indeed, nations in this category transcend continents, and include, for example, England, France, Germany, Switzerland, Australia and Ethiopia. Such deferral arrangements were inevitably connected with anti-viral infection moves. Their coordinated stance on the near identical resolution by the HKSAR government has churned out a blatant manifestation of wilful "double-standard" representations.

According to the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, an appreciable total of 61 countries and 8 territories is noted to have delayed elections by mid July, and among these nations, Britain has shelved its local and mayoral elections in England for one year to May 2021 in consequence to the outbreak of the viral disease. For much the same reason, the Australian government has put off elections in New South Wales for 12 months. In Germany, it is understood that the police is trying to stamp out street protests over tough anti-Covid 19 control while the government is backlashing the public for its lack of discipline in the increasingly critical virus sprawl.

Doubtlessly, Hong Kong has been witnessing a resurrection of Covid-19 outburst since early July. The medical authorities have reported a 12th straight day of over 100 local infections, bringing the city's infection tally to 3511 and imposing as a result unmanageable strains on the hospital treatment facilities. The cumulative mortality cases rose to 35 by yesterday (plus another 2 at the time of writing). On July 28, the chairman of the Electoral Affairs Commission wrote to offer advice to the CE on the public health perils of conducting the LegCo election by the initial timetable, emphasising that 3 million voters turning up at the polling stations across the territory on the same day would constitute an "exponentially larger infection risk." Meanwhile, the Hospital Authority expressed a note of welcome to the poll postponement endeavour, saying it would "reduce mass gatherings to minimise community infections and relieve pressure on public hospitals." If the LegCo election continued to be held as scheduled under the prevailing circumstances, the CE was gravely worried that its openness and fairness could hardly be guaranteed, and the safety of voters, candidates and staff on duty at the polling and counting venues would be jeopardised.

Hardly could there be any solid grounds for politicians across political divides to refuse pressurising the government to suspend school classes and start the summer break right away oven the earlier signs of worsening viral threat, for only the crucial protection of the health and safety of the students and the school workers. Nonetheless, when it comes to LegCo election involving expectedly heavy poll as well as massive campaigns and deployments of logistic personnel, the serious misgivings about the safety hazards to the voters have been grossly underrated or even brushed aside in the minds of the members of the pan-democratic factions. Such concerns should be particularly vital for the electorate sector aged over 65 who occupied 20 percent of the voter turnout by geographical constituency in the 2016 LegCo General Election. In the absence of a far more reliable and acceptable election date, the eligible elderly and probably many other voters would most likely choose to shun the polls least they could become contracted. This is a price affordable to nobody in carrying out a large-scale public election.

In connection, suitable account should be taken of the estimated over one million registered voters who are currently staying outside of Hong Kong, with thousands of them on the Chinese mainland. The obligatory quarantine arrangements would definitely render it most difficult for many of these citizens to cast their votes. Similarly, the tightened social distancing regulations, introduced only last week to tackle the revived viral outbreak, would make it next to impossible for candidates to mount open campaigns in support of their election bids.

Over an extended period of time, there are outcries in the city from medical experts and the wider community for practising stay-at-home economy and work arrangements on an expanded scale, which will help minimise the chance of cross contamination through human interactions. It is both weird and insensible if the government proceeds with the LegCo election on the previously determined date and urges the over 3 million eligible voters to come out on the same day to fulfill their citizenship with high participation rates in the voting centres.

The CE was further rebuked by the opposition parties for the revised LegCo election schedule with rebuttal of Singapore's successful conduct of its parliamentary election on July 10, in the midst of the Covid-19 virus spread. Yet an intelligent look at the medical aftermath of this foreign election unravels the extraordinarily high medical and social costs to be borne by the city's administration for getting the election done during this period of abnormal public health alert. In April, the city-state hit at the highest spike of 1,426 confirmed infections on a single day. The situation turned stable by end June. In the week right before the parliamentary election, a tally of 1,112 new infections were recorded, plus a total of 190 cases on the actual day of the election. However, the viral spread spiralled upwards in the ensuing week, with infections surging up by 65 percent compared to the add-up for the week prior to the election. The same counting in the second week following indicated a 73 percent increase, taking the actual cases of positive testing to a rise of 3,800. The single-day high record of 513 cases on July 25 came closely with a daily count of 400 cases for the three consecutive days from July 26. Such snowballing in the scale of contagion cropped up in spite of the stringent precautions decreed by the government to a fundamentally disciplined public. Taking a realistic stock of Singapore'a latest electoral experience, is it not wise and rational for the Hong Kong society to shoulder an appalling risk by driving the government to complete the LegCo election early next month?

It can therefore be concluded with convincing grounds that the poll postponement proposal mooted by the CE has a solid and down-to-earth perspective which is in accordance with the law and in the great interest of the Hong Kong public. These pivotal realities are appreciated in entirety by the senior officials in the Central People's Government. Plagued by the rising tide of yet another new Covid-19 wave, a great number of countries round the world have resorted to a delaying strategy to contain public health emergency. It is realised that the the Central People's Government has responded with full support to the CE's stunning initiative, which will be dealt with by the National People's Congress Standing Committee(NPCSC) on the State Council's request. The NPCSC, confirmed to be meeting in Beijing on August 8-11, will also be addressing the question of the local legislature's lacuna engendered by the one-year postponement of LegCo election. Back locally, it is high time that different political entities bury their hatchet and focus all efforts in the concerted battle against the deadly Covid-19 disease and economic recovery.

The author is a member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of Orange News.



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