On 31 July 2020, the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government has invoked the Emergency Regulations Ordinance to postpone the 2020 Legislative Council General Election for a one-year period. The polling day was effectively changed from 6 September 2020 to 5 September 2021.
With reference to international norms and obligations, the Election Observation Project (EOP) has subject the Government’s claim—that its decision to postpone the election has nothing to do with politics—to an evidence-based scrutiny and summaries the Seven Flaws in the Government’s Decision to Cancel the 2020 Legislative Council General Election as follows:
1. Cherry-picking Global Data;
2. Failure to Consult with Experts;
3. Misinformation and Scaremongering Campaigns;
5. Unprecedented Disruptions to Electoral Order;
6. Failure to Conduct Public Consultation;
7. Lack of Consensus
Thorough examination of the available information allows us to refute the Government’s claim that its decision was based solely on public health reasons, which is the focus of this short research paper :
(1) global experiences do not lend the Government a convenient pretext to postpone the election, especially because Hong Kong does have the capacity to mitigate the risk of transmission during the electoral process,
(2) preparation for holding the election as planned was underway in accordance with a range of public health measures designed by the Government and the Electoral Affairs Commission and there is a consensus among public health experts that public health risks are manageable with the help of well thought out mitigation measures and public education, and
(3) the Government has been unable to explain why it failed to consult with its own public health experts or the Centre for Health Protection as promised earlier before arriving at the decision of delaying the poll.
As a conclusion, the EOP would like to the make following observations.
1. Numerous international institutions have published guidelines on arranging elections during the time of Covid-19 to mitigate risks and upholding electoral rights.
2. There is a strong consensus among public health experts in Hong Kong and elsewhere that there is no evidence suggesting that elections have led to a surge of infection or the elections or election-related activities which followed strict hygiene rules have been responsible for the increasing number of confirmed cases.
3. There is no evidence that Hong Kong does not have the financial resources and human resources to bring the spike of infection in July under control in time to hold the election as scheduled.
4. The Government’s claim that its decision to cancel the election this year was based solely on public health concerns was found untenable. It is a remarkable fact that whilst Government wanted people to believe that its decision to delay an election was based on public health concerns, its Chief Executive had been so determined not to seek advice from the medical experts.
5. The postponement of any election is a complex question because in addition to the public health concerns, which constitute the focus of this paper, such decisions require a high level of consensus among political parties, civil society and all stakeholders. Like it or not, it is about politics and it is essentially political. In the case of Hong Kong, however, such a consensus is not forthcoming and the Government has not consulted with civil society. The only political camp that came out to applaud the Government’s decision was the indeed the pro-Beijing, pro-Government camp which had launched a concerted campaign to demand the postponement since the second week of July.
6. The Government has resorted to emergency powers to justify its decision which is in conflict with the existing constitutional and legal order, thereby increasing the risks of interference from the Central Authorities and electoral manipulation in the year to come.
7. The Government said and did nothing whilst its supporters hurled accusations at the Electoral Affairs Commission, a statutory body set up to manage elections and advise the Government on electoral affairs.
8. In sum, EOP concludes that the Hong Kong Government’s decision to postpone the election for a year is found to have failed to meet the principles of proportionality, necessity, predictability, consensus, and the rule of law. All the available evidences support the conclusion that Hong Kong’s decision to delay the poll was politically motivated.
Please refer to the full report for more details : EOP_COVID and LegCo Election 2020 (17 August 2020)
Election Obeservation Project, Hong Kong
14 August 2020