The Legislative Council election is scheduled for Sept 6, and already raucous electioneering activities are underway, with prominent displays of the radical opposition camp’s flag boldly promising “revolution” to the bitter end. And they are doing it with the conviction that they could secure the magic number of "35-plus" seats, the minimum required to catapult them into the house majority.
They have vowed that they would veto every bill as well as the annual budget, which would ultimately bring all government services to a screeching halt. With such a promised dire scenario, the administration must start earnestly now to prepare all contingency plans with the utmost care, and ensure that this very important election is conducted in irreproachable fairness.
With less than six weeks to go before the LegCo election, Hong Kong is being buffeted by a third-wave pandemic onslaught of unprecedented ferocity, which saw a sharp upswing in COVID-19 infections of over 100 cases per day. To compound the problem, the origin of many of the infections could not be traced. In the circumstance, if we allow the election to proceed as scheduled, letting over 4 million voters to queue up to cast their votes, the inevitable proximity of this sea of humanity would most certainly trigger another major outbreak of the pandemic, which could only result in the total collapse of our medical services.
Considering the fact that most of our hospitals are already operating under great strain, the election and the subsequent huge pandemic outbreak would very likely become the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back of our economy, as we are already struggling with an all-time high unemployment rate of 6.2 percent and the closure of thousands of small businesses.
The “primary election” launched by the opposition camp had already earned them an unfair advantage over other candidates by jump-starting their campaigning activities, which itself constitutes an abuse of election expenses limits. All that amounts to a strong argument to postpone the election until the pandemic is under control
The ultimate aim of a fair and democratic election is that the results truly reflect the views of a majority of voters. But due to the constraints of the pandemic, this is not possible at present nor in the immediate future. Firstly, many voters, particularly the elderly, might be deterred from coming out to vote due to their concerns over COVID-19 infections. Secondly, with the voters wearing face masks, it would be difficult for the polling station staff to verify their true identities, which might incentivize imposters, as had happened in the last District Council election. The “primary election” launched by the opposition camp had already earned them an unfair advantage over other candidates by jump-starting their campaigning activities, which itself constitutes an abuse of election expenses limits. All that amounts to a strong argument to postpone the election until the pandemic is under control.
It is not as drastic a decision as it might seem on face value because it actually is in line with the cancellation of the popular Hong Kong Marathon, the Annual Book Fair and the Rugby Sevens. For a responsible government, people’s health must always be of paramount importance. Indeed, according to the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance, at least 68 countries or regions had postponed their national or regional elections between Feb 21 and July 26 because of COVID-19. For example, the United Kingdom postponed its local council elections in 118 constituencies for one year to May next year. In contrast, France proceeded with its local council elections on March 15, after which four mayors and deputy mayors died because of COVID-19 infections. The postponement should therefore be viewed simply as responsible government action rather than a denigration of democracy.
Unfortunately, a decision by the special administrative region government to postpone the LegCo election in the current climate would most certainly be played up by the opposition camp as a move to suppress democracy and the voice of the people. It would also be leveraged by the West to criticize the central government and as an excuse to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and mainland officials. Thus the SAR government should be prepared to provide evidence-based justification for a likely postponement.
Firstly, relevant medical evidence should be offered as the core justification for the decision. It would not be difficult for us to display a chart to show that we needed at least two months to put each of the first two waves of COVID-19 outbreaks under control. Considering the ferocity of the current third wave of infections, with the origin of hundreds of cases untraceable, it is clearly “mission impossible” to bring the pandemic under control before the election day. It is imperative that supportive relevant independent scientific data can be released along with the announcement of a postponement. And we should not rely solely on local experts, as at least two of them appeared to have hidden agendas against the SAR and central governments. We should secure the backing of renowned international experts to obviate any accusation of bias. An international expert team should be appointed, headed by Margaret Chan Fung Fu-chun, the former head of the World Health Organization who led our battle against SARS in 2003, together with one serving WHO consultant and one local expert. The team would be tasked with examining the available scientific and medical data and advising the government on the way forward concerning the schedule of the LegCo election.
The opposition camp’s public protest on July 1, with tens of thousands of its followers running around Wan Chai and Causeway Bay, and the “primary election” on July 11 and 12 all over the city are the major contributing factors for the current pandemic resurgence, according to some local healthcare professionals. It might be helpful if the police could look deeply into the background of all new cases of COVID-19 since July 1 to ascertain how many of them might have been involved in these events. Intriguingly, according to insider information, the police computer system used to trace the spread of COVID-19, the Major Incident Investigation and Disaster Support System (MIIDSS), has revealed that one-third of the new cases had been to Wan Chai and Causeway Bay on July 1. Further police research, including double-checking the intelligence record of the police anti-riot team, can be made to verify this. By connecting the dots, we might produce the convincing evidence to show that postponing the election is the right thing to do to avoid another spate of costly street violence and social disruption.
Another major reason for postponing the election is that it is estimated that over 1 million registered voters are out of Hong Kong and hundreds of thousands are on the Chinese mainland. These people are entitled to vote if they have registered addresses in Hong Kong. It would be extremely unfair if they are prevented from coming back to Hong Kong to vote because of the current quarantine restrictions. The Election Commission can easily check the voter registry against the Immigration Department’s records to come up with an accurate figure showing exactly how many registered voters are now out of the territory and might have been deprived of the right to vote.
Under the current rules, the chief executive can postpone the LegCo election for 14 days, which is clearly not enough for the return of normalcy. I suggest that we follow the UK’s postponement of its local elections for one year. This can be done through the authority of the chief executive in Emergency Regulation, which has been held up by the Court of Appeal in the recent appeal over the anti-mask law.
To ensure continuation of LegCo’s work after expiry of the current members’ term of office, their service can simply be extended for another year. If there is any doubt on its legitimacy, the extension can be promulgated by the National People’s Congress. Indeed, there are added advantages in the extension as LegCo can then continue to examine the outstanding bills and public fund applications, saving precious time and resources in waiting for a new assembly of legislators to debate them all over again. The Election Commission can also take the time to launch the electronic voting system to rectify the abuses that occurred in the last District Council election. Besides, the extension proposal would most likely be welcomed by the Civic Party and Democratic Party, as it would save their incumbent members from being ousted by their incoming radical opposition counterparts!
The author is an adjunct professor at HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS