Hong Kong LegCo Polls Likely ‘Postponed’

Covid excuse likely to save face for Beijing and its Quisling government

It looks increasingly likely that the Hong Kong government will declare a state of emergency and postpone elections to its Legislative Council which are due to be held in early September.

Any such decision is likely to be announced after the closure this week of candidate nominations, several of which may anyway be rejected on grounds of insufficient commitment to the nation.

A state of emergency provision exists under colonial laws but has very seldom been used. The excuse, in this case, would be that because of the Covid-19 epidemic the campaigning and voting process would be a danger to public health.

Singapore managed to hold an election during a period of semi-lockdown. But there the ruling Peoples Action Party was looking for endorsement of its handling of the crisis, and for the coming handover of leadership to the so-called 4G generation by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who has expressed a desire to retire by 2022.

In Hong Kong, on the other hand, the government is desperate to avoid the embarrassment of wholesale rejection of its policies regardless of its handling of Covid-19. In district elections, last year pro-government candidates suffered heavy losses. The government’s situation is unlikely to have improved since then, with the imposition by Beijing of its National Security Law on the supposedly autonomous territory, and various actions by the government to suppress freedom of speech and assembly.

Any postponement could be for as much as a year, and presumably involve giving the existing council, with a government majority handily increased by disbarring some elected persons, an extra year.

The likelihood of the opposition ever achieving a majority in the legislature was always remote given the representation of many small, government-aligned business groups in the council, and the obstacles placed in front of pro-democracy candidates. But the very thought of was enough to arouse government suggestions that the very idea of the legislature defeating key executive proposals such as the budget could amount to subversion or sedition under the National Security Law.

Thuggery by the government-appointed apparatchiks is almost daily in evidence. Just yesterday s the Council of the University of Hong Kong voted to dismiss law lecturer Benny Tai, who had been convicted of incitement to incite to create a public nuisance by his role in the 2014 Umbrella movement when millions demonstrated for more democracy. Earlier the university’s internal government body had rejected firing Tai but was over-ruled by the Council, a collection of mostly government appointees.

With many western countries now having ended extradition agreements with Hong Kong following the National Security Law, the actions of the HKU Council will send the message that Hong Kong’s universities are no longer places for free inquiry and debate but will do whatever the government, itself following instructions from Beijing’s Liaison Office in the territory, demands to suppress dissent or criticism of the Communist Party.

It is still possible that the government will hold back from postponing the elections for fear of a backlash by the public, attracting further hostile reaction from western countries in particular and also suggesting to a wider world that the territory is no longer a reliable and stable place.

The withdrawal of trade and visa benefits for Hong Kong residents is already causing anguish and would be more sharply felt is not for the Covid-caused collapse in international travel. As it is, the outlook for some of the city’s high value-added services such as trust administration, law, and arbitration have already been significantly damaged.

However, given that Beijing wants Hong Kong to be less and less different from the mainland, its agent in the territory, chief executive Carrie Lam, will do what she is told rather than what the citizens think is good for them.

Starting August 2020, Asia Sentinel will publish most stories behind a paywall. Supporting us with subscriptions will help us continue holding governments to account, investigating, and providing the most thoughtful coverage of Asia. See what you’ll get when you subscribe.

Subscribe now