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Editorial: Election delay ‘due to virus’ could drain H.K. demoncracy of substance

  • August 4, 2020
  • , The Japan News , 1: 36 p.m.
  • English Press

A precious opportunity to demonstrate public will against the “Chinafication” of Hong Kong has been postponed. It is feared that democracy will lose its substance, coming to exist there in name only.


The Hong Kong government has announced the postponement of the Legislative Council election scheduled for September by one year.


Citing the growing novel coronavirus infections as a reason, Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam said that a safe and fair election cannot be held on the scheduled election date. China has expressed its stance to accept the postponement, saying that Hong Kong’s top priority mission is preventing infections.


In Hong Kong, the number of infected people has been on the increase since July. However, it is impossible to accept the explanations of the Chinese and Hong Kong governments at face value.


The biggest point of contention in the election was to have been the propriety of the national security law, which China put into force beyond Hong Kong’s reach. Pro-democracy lawmakers and candidates are opposed to the law, which regulates anti-government movements.


In the primary vote to narrow down the list of pro-democracy candidates, 610,000 people, far more than expected, participated. The Hong Kong government may have decided to postpone the election out of fear that public opposition to the law would erupt and the pro-democracy candidates would win.


The pro-democracy groups are protesting, saying that the Hong Kong government used the coronavirus politically to save pro-China groups. According to a public opinion survey, 55% of respondents opposed the postponement of the election, exceeding the 36% who were in favor.


Before the decision was made to postpone the election, 12 members of pro-democracy groups who had filed their candidacies, had their candidacies nullified on grounds such as that they opposed the law. The figure is double that of the previous election four years ago. There is a possibility that by the time the election takes place one year later, pro-democracy candidates could be cleared away and all the candidacies could be occupied by pro-China candidates.


The problem is that despite the Hong Kong government’s pledge of “prudent management” at the time of the enforcement of the law, the forceful nature of its crackdown has become conspicuous.


Six pro-democracy activists staying in Britain or elsewhere overseas to escape the crackdown in Hong Kong were put on the wanted list for “collusion with a foreign country or with external elements to endanger national security.”


Four activists who posted “Hong Kong independence” on the internet were arrested for fanning support for secession from the country. It is said that the law has been applied to cases other than protest activities on streets.


Being aware of the law, Hong Kong media began to restrain criticism of the authorities. Books by pro-democracy activists have been removed from libraries and schools.


The current situation — in which freedom of speech has been rapidly lost just one month after the enforcement of the law — cannot be overlooked.


The Hong Kong government should realize that the more strongly it oppresses the pro-democracy movements, the less persuasive its claim of postponing the election due to the coronavirus becomes.


— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Aug. 4, 2020.

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