Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced on Friday that the government would postpone the highly anticipated general election by a year, citing a worsening coronavirus outbreak in the semi-autonomous Chinese city.
The Hong Kong government is calling on an emergency ordinance to delay elections. Lam said the government had the Chinese government's support in making the decision.
"The announcement I have to make today is the most difficult decision I have had to make in the past seven months," Lam said at a press conference.
“We want to ensure fairness, public safety and health and ensure that the elections are held openly, fairly and impartially. This decision is therefore essential, ”she said.
The shift is a setback for the democracy-friendly opposition, which hoped to benefit from the disillusionment with the current pro-Beijing majority in order to make a profit. A group of 22 lawmakers made a statement prior to the announcement, accusing the government of using the outbreak as an excuse to delay voting.
"Acting democracy-friendly legislators, who represent 60% of public opinion, jointly reject the postponement and emphasize the responsibility of the SAR government to make every effort to organize appropriate measures against epidemics to hold the September election as planned" the statement said, referring to the official name of the territory, the Hong Kong SAR.
"Otherwise, it would mean uprooting the foundation for the establishment of the Special Administrative Region."
The city of 7.5 million people has seen an increase in coronavirus infections since early July. Hong Kong had 3,273 infections on Friday, more than double the number on July 1.
The government tightened restrictions on social distance, restricted public gatherings to two people, and banned eating in restaurants after 6:00 p.m.
Preparations for the election were closely monitored after a national security law that came into force in late June stipulated that those who violated the law should be excluded from the race.
The new law is seen as Beijing's attempt to curb dissent in the city after months of protests against democracy and the Hong Kong government last year.
On Thursday, 12 democracy-friendly candidates, including prominent democracy-friendly activist Joshua Wong, were excluded from the candidacy for failing to comply with the city's mini-constitution or for pledging allegiance to local and national governments.
"Without a doubt, this is the most scandalous choice in Hong Kong history," said Wong at a press conference on Friday. "I want to emphasize that no sensible man would think that this election ban is not politically motivated."
"Beijing has staged several acts to prevent the opposition bloc from taking a majority in Hong Kong's legislature," he said.