Hong Kong is still battling the third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic while trying to revive the economy. Members of the public need unity more than ever to contain the pandemic and boost economic development. At this moment in time, however, the next Legislative Council election is around the corner and people cannot but worry about the prospect of another outbreak in addition to serious political infighting in the run-up to the September election. That is why many people are wondering if it is a good idea to hold the LegCo election as planned.
To answer this question one must think over two issues. One is public health. Since the third wave of COVID-19 infections started recently, the number of locally contracted cases has been growing despite tougher quarantine measures and social-distancing rules by the special administrative region government. This indicates the potential of more asymptomatic cases surfacing in the near future is high and therefore preventive measures must not be eased any time soon. The government has tightened restrictions on social gatherings this week to only two persons at a time in public. The problem is the inevitable increase of campaign rallies after qualified candidates are each issued a number on Tuesday, which will be printed on every ballot in his or her constituency, until voting ends on the night of Sept 6. Campaign rallies tend to take place in local communities and will no doubt raise the risk of community spread of COVID-19. Of course there is also the lines of voters at polling stations and probably crowds waiting for the results to be announced. All those gatherings are cluster infections waiting to happen and should be avoided.
The other issue is a fair election. In the Democracy Index published by the Economist Intelligence Unit, there is a marker called “electoral process and pluralism”, which refers to various campaign activities accessible to all. As long as the pandemic remains a real and immediate threat, people who are more vulnerable than others, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities and/or a chronic illness, may choose not to go out and vote, or attend campaign rallies for that matter. When that happens, not only certain candidates will lose votes but also voters who decide against going out will miss out on putting their candidates in office, while leaving the fairness of the election in question. And with perceived unfairness come doubts over the worthiness of the victors.
As long as the pandemic remains a real and immediate threat, people who are more vulnerable than others, such as senior citizens and people with disabilities and/or a chronic illness, may choose not to go out and vote, or attend campaign rallies for that matter. When that happens, not only certain candidates will lose votes but also voters who decide against going out will miss out on putting their candidates in office, while leaving the fairness of the election in question
As such, it is very difficult, if not impossible, to keep public health and election fairness in good balance. No matter how much we want every election to be fair, we cannot afford to sacrifice public health for the purpose. As a matter of fact, many business activities are suspended to protect public health. Opposition parties, on the other hand, remain firmly against postponing the LegCo election, arguing that many places around the world chose not to delay their elections amid the pandemic. That argument is shaky to say the least because many other places have postponed their elections for the sake of public health. For example, the British government on March 19 presented the Coronavirus Act 2020 to the Parliament. It includes delaying elections scheduled for May 7, such as 118 local council elections in England, by a year.
A random opinion poll by telephone, conducted by the One Country Two Systems Research Centre on July 12 to 21, received legitimate responses from 1,093 Hong Kong residents aged 18 or above. One of the questions is: “If the pandemic situation remains as serious in August and early September as it is now, with increasing cases of communal infection, would you agree the LegCo election should be postponed?” Poll results show 54 percent of the respondents said “yes”. That is definitely a majority opinion. The opposition camp, however, has refused to heed popular wishes, saying the pro-establishment side wants to delay the LegCo election out of fear of another defeat. As usual, this kind of verbal jab is just another Freudian slip hiding the opposition’s fear of losing if the LegCo poll is delayed.
Last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo delivered a speech titled “Communist China and the Free World’s Future”, which was widely seen as bordering on a declaration of war. He also asserted last month if Hong Kong’s LegCo election takes place as planned, it will show that Beijing still respects Hong Kong’s freedom. The opposition camp has no choice but to dance to Washington’s drumbeat by insisting to hold the election as scheduled in the hope of creating more political controversies for Pompeo to exploit for the benefit of US President Donald Trump in his bid for reelection.
The author is senior research officer of the One Country Two Systems Research Institute.
The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.
HONG KONG NEWS